Hope Gieseke

Hope attended a Derby party with members of her Gather small group last year.

Hope joined a Women’s Bible study at Southeast Christian Church to grow in her relationship with Jesus. She has found lifelong friendships along the way. 

Hope is a resident of Cedar Lake Residences,  Cedar Lake's community-based residential and support services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Cedar Lake is a nonprofit organization that provides support to more than 250 people with disabilities.

Tara Clark, Cedar Lake’s spiritual life director, works to connect Cedar Lake’s clients to local churches, including Southeast.

“I work with people from all denominations to help them grow in their faith in a way that’s personal,” Clark said.

Hope asked Clark to help her find a group Bible study, and she helped her join Gather, a Women’s Ministry group at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus for women who desire to grow in their walk with Christ in a relational community.

“I was a bit nervous at first because the group was so big, and I wasn’t sure it would be a good fit for Hope, but she was determined to make the most of it—and she did,” Clark said.

Gather consists of large group worship and teaching and small group discussion. Clark and Hope joined a small group together, and Clark said they were welcomed like family.

“It was a beautiful experience,” Clark said. “Many of the women in the group were married and had children, but they were aware that Hope was single and made sure to engage in her life circumstances. They always brought things to her level, but never made her feel less than or excluded. Hope has been able to develop her faith and build real friendships with her church community. We’re both so grateful to have been welcomed with open arms.”

One member of Hope’s small group, Leslie Parlee, connected with her over colored pencils.

“We found out that we both love art,” Parlee said. “We’ve been able to spend time together in the last couple years and make craft projects.”

Hope and Parlee have taught each other much. Parlee introduced Hope to Bible art journaling, and Hope, who knows sign language, has taught Parlee several words and phrases. The pair meets over Zoom every Friday to catch up and worship together through singing and signing.

“Hope is just one of those people who makes you feel better,” Parlee said. “She loves me in spite of myself. I know that God put her in front of me, and she’s blessed me just as much, if not more than, I’ve blessed her.”

Hope isn’t the only one to have built relationships at Southeast.

Many adults supported by Cedar Lake attend the Shine Disabilities Ministry’s annual summer camp, Camp Freedom.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Southeast community engagement leaders hosted pop-up parties at Cedar Lake Lodge. Cedar Lake also partnered with Southeast to host their own pop-up party at a local assisted living facility.

Some Cedar Lake Lodge residents attend Southeast’s La Grange Campus. When residents were unable to find seating due to wheelchairs, La Grange Campus Community Pastor Mike Berry and La Grange Campus Facilities staff had seats at the front of the worship center removed to make room for them, so they wouldn’t have to sit off to the side or in the back.

In the last few months, Southeast staff and volunteers have delivered cards and board games to Cedar Lake Lodge residents, who are among the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic and are unable to leave the facility.

One of the most anticipated events of the year at Cedar Lake is its annual Christmas party. In December, when Clark was in need of a venue, she reached out to Berry.

“Most of our supports live in Jefferson County and rely on TARC3 buses for transportation, but TARC3 only runs inside the Gene Snyder Freeway, so we couldn’t use our facilities in Oldham or Henry County,” Clark said.

Berry connected Clark to Southeast’s Shine Disabilities Ministry Leader Mary Tatum, who arranged a space for the party at the Blankenbaker Campus.

“Not only did they provide a space for us, but they also provided volunteers who served food and spent time with us,” Clark said. “They even provided gift bags for all of our party guests, which was an unexpected surprise.”

Clark said she’s grateful to partner with a church that values connecting people to Jesus and one another, one person at a time.

“Cedar Lake is Christ-centered and person-focused,” Clark said. “It’s so great to be able to partner with a local church that lives that out in all they do.”