By Ashley Stewart Herald Writer
Tianna Hatleberg wanted to work with kids, but didn’t always have the confidence.
The 19-year-old Everett woman started helping out at her church’s daycare, but told her mom she felt uncomfortable there.
“She has always been the type of kid who loves people and wants to serve people, but she really didn’t have a place to do that,” mom Jamie Hatleberg said.
That all started to change when Tianna Hatleberg, born without a part of her brain that affects mostly her vision and motor skills, began attending a faith group that focuses on building confidence and community for kids with disabilities.
“Her confidence started to grow, now she has a place and a purpose,” her mom said. “She’s just been deeply touched by it.”
Capernaum is a special branch of Young Life — a mentoring program that connects teens with Christian adults who provide guidance — for kids ages 15 to 25 with disabilities, both mental and physical.
Kids can connect through games, music and other activities, both at meetings during the school year and special events during the summer.
Aimee Dunbar, who started the Snohomish County group more than a year ago, said these are all just avenues to get kids to interact with group leaders and with each other.
“The most important part of Capernaum is the relationships. There are people surrounding these kids; loving them, talking to them, praying for them, speaking truth into their lives,” she said. “We all need that community.”
And that community helped Hatleberg to grow.
Dunbar remembers when the teenager first came to Capernaum.
“She was just sort of struggling through her junior year of high school and really didn’t have any desire to participate,” Dunbar said.
The group helped her to build confidence, and when she went to Washington Family Ranch, a camp for kids in Young Life, she felt comfortable enough to do a trust fall off the camp’s rope course instead of taking the slide. It was a first for Capernaum.
“For her, this was just a start,” Dunbar said.
When she returned from camp, Hatleberg started doing more things on her own. She baked a cake by herself during her first week home, which Dunbar said can be a huge accomplishment for a kid with disabilities.
“She found a place where she fits,” Hatleberg’s mom said. “These kids have gained something they can connect to; they have somewhere to go where they won’t be teased or not heard.”
Hatleberg just graduated from Cascade High School and is hoping to get a job at her church’s daycare. Her family is looking at child development education programs that she can take one class at a time.
“There is a huge need for this in our community,” Dunbar said. “There are tons of kids out there who aren’t experiencing friendship and are a lot of times isolated at home. We could reach out to move kids, but we need more people who are willing to step out and help these kids who are a lot of times forgotten.”
The Snohomish County Capernaum group meets on the first three Thursdays of the month during the school year. ,
For more information, go to www.younglife.org/Capernaum or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashley Stewart; 425-339-3037; email@example.com.