Special Touch — from Afar
U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries missionaries Joe and Ann Trementozzi have spent the past 14 years enriching the lives of people impacted by disability through Special Touch Ministry.
Each year, as one of their many ministry aspects, the Trementozzis host Get Away Camps in Florida and Georgia. These camps provide people with intellectual and physical disabilities — as well as their caretakers —an opportunity to experience God in an in-residence setting. But due to COVID-19, Special Touch Ministry made the difficult decision to cancel its 2020 camps.
Nevertheless, the Trementozzis took the five-day camp online, which gave them an even greater reach, touching individuals, caregivers, and church leaders as far away as Brazil.
Mike D. Tedder, pastor of the Tabernacle Church in Atlanta, suggested holding the camp online.
“As soon as he said that, I knew it was from God,” Joe Trementozzi says. “We were to pivot, just like the Church did, during the pandemic crisis.”
In unchartered territory, the Trementozzis pulled together a team of people who had helped with past Get Aways, along with Tedder, and began the planning process.
“We gathered our team each week prior to the ‘Virtual Get Away’ through Zoom production and planning meetings, shared this year’s theme — ‘God’s Got Your Next’ — and asked our team leaders to prepare their messages and activities around our theme,” says Ann. “We then brainstormed how to accomplish the task at hand.”
The Trementozzis communicated through this year’s camp that regardless of past or present circumstances — or what the future holds — people can live free from fear.
Guests, which is a term Special Touch uses for camp participants, registered from 13 states: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Illinois, Arizona, and Virginia. Online participants from Brazil used Portuguese translated camp materials and sermons.
Although the format and some activities, such as climbing a 35-foot wall, changed with this year’s online platform, guests remained engaged and active throughout the camp. The camp had two tracks, one for people with physical disabilities and the other geared toward those with intellectual challenges. While the daily schedule varied, each day began with two morning devotions, geared toward each track. Craft activities, crossword puzzles, videos and songs, and even physical activities, like Christian Zumba and sock basketball, filled the remainder of the days. Evenings concluded with a chapel service and worship.
This year, the Trementozzis’ daughter, Beth Ann, who has special needs, sat alongside her parents and in a sense partnered with them in ministry. Beth Ann, 41, attends an Easterseals adult day camp, and over the years, she has distributed flyers and invited many friends to a Get Away camp. All eight of her friends from the Easterseals adult day program who have accepted an invitation to a Get Away camp have committed their lives to Jesus as Savior.
The impact of the ministry is also evident through 26-year-old Collin, who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. His mother, Sherri Snow, says she and Collin enjoyed this year’s virtual camp, but missed the face-to-face interactions with the Trementozzis and other guests they experienced in past in-person camps. Still, that didn’t keep Collin or his mother from engaging in this year’s virtual camp and worshipping God from the safety of their home.
“Even though we only get to see them once a year, they are still very dear to us,” says Snow. “For most participants, Special Touch Get Aways are a lifeline.”
Both Collin and his mother anticipate meeting in person next year. Collin says he is especially looking forward to beating Trementozzi in wheelchair soccer next year.
The Trementozzis emphasize that the annual Special Touch Get Aways are just one aspect of their ministry. Their work together also includes advocacy and education. Joe and Ann often travel to churches and other venues to raise awareness of the needs of people with disabilities and their families and the necessity for them to become a vital part of church and society.