Very Important People
Nathaniel Kuck only lived four years on earth. During his brief life, various health issues limited his abilities. But, 15 years after his death, Nathaniel is still bringing hope to many.
The boy’s parents — Tim, chief operating officer of Regal Marine, and Marie, an ordained Assemblies of God minister through the Peninsular Florida District — started Nathaniel's Hope in 2002 after Nathaniel’s death. Through their personal experiences, Tim and Marie saw how demanding raising a child with special needs can be. After their son’s death, the Kucks sensed God prompting them to help other families in similar situations. Now, Nathaniel’s Hope provides free practical assistance for families with children who have special needs: those with any physical, cognitive, or medical disabilities, as well as those with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
“We call kids with special needs VIP — Very Important People — because we hate the word disabled and handicapped to be used,” Marie says. “These are God’s kids who are uniquely created with value and purpose.”
Nathaniel’s Hope has trained people in over 150 churches in 23 states. Programs offered by Nathaniel’s Hope include Caroling for Kids and Nathaniel’s Toy Shop. Last Christmas, Nathaniel’s Toy Shop helped over 5,000 VIP kids and their siblings receive presents. Nathaniel’s Hope National VIP Birthday Club hosts 12,000 VIP kids from 48 states and seven countries. On June 3, Nathaniel’s Hope sponsored its 15th annual Make ‘m Smile festival at Lake Eola in downtown Orlando to celebrate VIP kids. Last year’s event drew 50,000 people, including more than 2,500 VIP kids.
The organization’s Buddy Break trains church volunteers to provide respite care and ongoing support.
“One of the greatest needs that special needs families have is to get a break,” Marie says. “We are working to build a network of churches across the country that would host Buddy Breaks and provide free respite care to VIP kids and families.”
The Kucks train volunteers to be equipped to welcome VIP kids on Sunday mornings.
“A practical thing you can do when you encounter a child or person with a disability is just say hello,” Marie says. “Churches must decide to be intentional to welcome kids with special needs.”
“Our calling is to bring encouragement, support, and hope to families that have kids with special needs,” Tim says.
On Christmas morning in 1997, Nathaniel and his family spent his first Christmas huddled around a hospital bed instead of a gift-laden Christmas tree. The Kucks saw many other hospitalized children, all dealing with whatever circumstances that brought them there. As a result, the Kucks purposed to find a way to encourage kids like Nathaniel who had to spend Christmas in a hospital bed.
“Their Christmas program reaches thousands of children with the love of Christ and Christmas gifts,” says Carl Stephens, lead pastor of Faith Assembly in Orlando. “I cannot say enough good things about their heart for Christ and families with kids in need.”