For people with developmental disabilities, life can be isolating and opportunities can be limited — but with the right support, they can turn that expectation around and lead rich, satisfying lives. The hope that everyone can have such a life led to the creation of Lighthouse Vocational Services, a nonprofit guided by the conviction that God has created each person with value and purpose. Ever since Lighthouse Vocational Services was founded in 1975, the Christian ministry has been growing and finding new ways to provide its participants with the chance to engage in fulfilling programs and work opportunities. The organization ensures that the people who are too often left behind by our fast-paced, complex society can enjoy the enriching experience of a job and can take an active part in their community.
Lighthouse Vocational Services, located in New Holland, offers individuals with mental and physical disabilities a variety of vocational skills training programs, employment services, and volunteer opportunities within the community. Participants engage in the Lighthouse programs based on their interests and abilities, and each participant is treated with dignity, recognized as the person they are, rather than the focus being placed on their disability.
One of Lighthouse’s programs, Strengthening Pathways, teaches a wide range of important skills that most people take for granted, including daily living skills, exercise and nutrition, music, art, technology, cooking and baking. Through teaching these life skills, Lighthouse helps participants enhance their quality of life and improve their skill levels across the board.
Lighthouse’s facility-based vocational skills training program prepares individuals for the labor market by teaching skills that are needed to thrive in a work environment. Participants gain experience and earn money as they perform tasks like packaging, light assembly, collating and similarly straightforward jobs outsourced to Lighthouse by local companies.
For those who are ready to seek work in the marketplace, Lighthouse’s employment services program offers wholly personalized assistance. Certified employment specialists help participants explore different types of work as well as seek and retain direct employment based on their career interests and skills. Mobile work crews give participants opportunities to try different jobs and earn a wage in the community while supervised by job coaches.
The Lighthouse facility starts admitting participants around 7:45 a.m. and sends people home by 3 p.m. The building is also equipped with a sensory room that includes special therapeutic objects that help participants with sensory sensitivities develop focus and calm.
For most of the organization’s existence, Lighthouse staff and volunteers have worked in person with the participants. During the pandemic, however, the organization also developed virtual learning experiences, such as social groups, sports talks, a Bible study, and virtual tours of museums and other attractions that could help individuals stay connected while in the comfort of their homes.
“The goal is to provide each person the supports and services they need to thrive,” Brian French, Lighthouse’s director of programs, told The Lancaster Patriot. “For some people, that’ll be getting a job. For some people, that’ll be being here at Strengthening Pathways. For some people, that’ll mean they stay in the building and do the paid vocational work.”
Getting a job out in the world is not right for everyone, depending on how well they can function within society, French explained. Some people do better when they remain at Lighthouse — and the freedom for people to choose where they work is important for the ministry to offer.
Kirt Barden, Lighthouse’s CEO, said, “We believe that since Christ died and rose for all, thus providing all with a choice, we must serve all.”
The organization also partners with many local nonprofit groups so that participants can do volunteer work that enables them to build community connections, grow their skills, and gain experience through the joy of giving. The service that participants provide to the community is an important aspect of Lighthouse’s work: its mission includes showing the community that the disabilities that people face are not all-consuming and that ministries like Lighthouse Vocational Services can give back to the community as well instead of only asking for assistance.
Debbie Flynn, a parent of a Lighthouse participant, shared about her child’s experiences with the ministry. “My daughter Cassandra was struggling with competitive employment within her community,” she wrote. “Cassandra would come home at night feeling very defeated. She would share with me how she was always getting in trouble because she didn’t work fast enough and didn’t understand directions spoken to her on the job. She would talk about how she would have to do her job over, due to it not being done correctly. Cassandra had a hard time understanding what she was doing wrong even when she worked her hardest to do her job. Cassandra was a very unhappy young lady when she was forced into competitive employment. Then we found Lighthouse Vocational Services. What an answer to our prayers. Lighthouse employs people with all different types of disabilities. Cassandra has attended Lighthouse for about two years. Cassandra loves going to work each day. She tells me, ‘If it was not for Lighthouse, I don’t think I would even be working now.’ Cassandra tells me the support and encouragement she receives from her support staff each day she goes in to work is the reason she is so successful at her job. Lighthouse Vocational Services has made the greatest impact on her life. Cassandra is now a very happy young lady.”
The impact of Lighthouse Vocational Services has been seen from the very beginning. Its founders, Norman Hahn, Melvin Martin, John Sensenig and Ben Weaver, envisioned a center that would give people with disabilities an opportunity to grow, connect and contribute to their community. Nearly 100 volunteers helped to renovate Hahn’s old farmhouse in Blue Ball, PA, which he offered as a rent-free facility for the ministry. The program started with just three participants, but soon expanded to include 20 individuals, mostly from Christian, Old Order Mennonite and Amish families. The participants were taught how to work and completed contract projects, such as making wooden toys, doll cradles, wall sconces, scripture plaques and porch benches — and they were also taught about God’s promises and how to discover biblical principles and truths for themselves. Lighthouse offered additional support through evening counseling as well.
Thanks to the commitment of the staff and volunteers, who come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, love the participants, and view their jobs as an act of service, Lighthouse Vocational Services has continued to expand. Today, Lighthouse works with over 180 individuals, from teenagers to people in their 70s, and still carries out the original vision to help each individual reach their greatest potential. This includes the people who have been overlooked — even in the more aware modern day — by outreaches meant to help the intellectually disabled. After the pandemic hit, some programs shifted their focus solely to higher-functioning individuals who are more capable of finding lasting employment in the community.
Lighthouse, on the other hand, is committed to serving everyone who wants the opportunity to work, whatever their level of functional ability. Because of the ministry’s core Christian beliefs, French explained, the doors are open to all. “We’re here to serve everybody,” he said. “If we can keep them safe and healthy during the day, we’re going to serve them.”
Lighthouse Vocational Services, a 501c3 organization, has been able to receive government funding, and the vast majority of the ministry’s funds comes through Medicaid. However, 20% of Lighthouse’s funding comes from grants and private donations, and the different fundraisers Lighthouse hosts throughout the year help cover operating costs. On Saturday, April 30, Lighthouse will hold the LVS Makers Market, where local artisans, food trucks and businesses will be selling their wares alongside products made by Lighthouse participants, like die-cut greeting cards, watercolor paintings, candles and birdhouses. On Friday, June 10, and Saturday, June 11, the Lighthouse Vocational Services annual auction will take place again after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
For the past 47 years, Lighthouse Vocational Services has been empowering people with disabilities and equipping them with the skills they need to thrive. For more information about the organization, its programs or how to volunteer, visit lighthousevoc.org.
The Lancaster Patriot is a print newspaper, delivered to your door once a week. Only select stories are published online. To get our print newspaper, sign-up online or call us at 717-370-7508.