By Amy Balzer-Pemberton

I recently sat down with a wonderful woman named Pam Kamrath. Have you met her? If not, you should. I have been talking all day about her passion for the Special Needs Ministry here at St. Luke. This fall marks the 10th year that she and her husband Tom have been sharing this blessing with our community.

First, let me tell you about Pam…  She was going to school for a Phys. Ed degree when she took a break from her education to get married and start her family. Later in life, Pam stumbled on a job in a group home where God ignited the passion she would have for those who have special needs.

From there her career took her to working with children within the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Four summers of short-term missionary work for Joni and Friends Camp is where the fire was truly fanned into flame to start the Parents’ Night Out ministry here at St. Luke.

KamrathNow let me tell you about her ministry. Parents’ Night Out is a FREE respite program for parents who have children with special needs. The program is offered from 6-9 p.m. on the first Friday of every month from October-June at St. Luke Lutheran Church – Ann Arbor, but is open to the community.

 Parents can enjoy an evening out while responsible, trained volunteers care for their children. Participants enjoy activities such as open gym play, crafts, music, movie time, and snack. All ages and ability levels welcome. Families need not be members of St. Luke to attend.
For planning purposes, registration and an R.S.V.P. are required for each evening, and space is limited to the first 25 children signed up. Ninety percent of the attendees are from the community and not St. Luke members. Families travel from as far as Adrian and Jackson to participate in the program.

I have been volunteering for the PNO program for over two years now. I remember my first time there like it was yesterday. The smiling kids that just can’t wait to explore the activities we have planned for them.

That first day, I knew I was hooked and would continue to volunteer here every month. I have even volunteered for the summer vacation Bible school in order to assist the special needs children.

 Now, two years later, I have really seen how each of them has grown and developed to complete activities I never thought possible when I first met them. This experience has truly been the most rewarding volunteer experience I have participated in. Just seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and knowing that I am helping them to be happy for just one night makes all the difference.
They truly inspire me and motivate me in a way they don’t even realize. I am so thankful for being a part of this wonderful organization, and I know others feel the same joy as I do every time I step into that church.
– Jackie Link
Parents’ Night Out Special Needs Ministry was founded on the basis of showing children the love of Christ, and bringing families closer to God. Over the 10 years, Pam thinks they have had the blessing to know just over 100 kids and over 50 families.
The children have been a mix of children ages from 4 months to 24 years, ranging in abilities from high functioning autism to many who are non-verbal, in wheelchairs, and on feeding tubes. Siblings are welcome and encouraged to attend, so parents can have a true night out.
I have assisted at a couple of PNO evenings and have so blessed. Pam is so organized and cares for each person who walks through the door. While serving, I have witnessed the love and grace extended to each child so patiently.
Pam is also concerned for the safety of everyone. She and her husband Tom have put procedures into place to give parents confidence that their children will have an amazing and safe evening. We at St. Luke are so blessed to have the Kamrath team giving so joyfully of their time, talent, and treasure for our families as well as the community.
– Janette Haak

Pam beams with pride as she speaks so lovingly of the families they help serve. Once a year they have an event that brings the entire PNO family together. Parents each are on their own schedule as they come and go from PNO, so this is a great time for these families to make connections. This year they spent the day together at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

I feel blessed to be part of Pam Kamrath’s vision of a program for children with special needs and their parents. As a parent of a son with special needs, I know firsthand how important this “special” respite care is for a family.

Children come to PNO Fridays with excitement and expectations of a fun-filled night. At the end of the night, to see those expectations fulfilled is such a wonderful feeling.
– Kay Robinson

I asked Pam what PNO needs. She told me that they need prayer support and emphasized that PNO is only able to function with the help of volunteers. Many of the volunteers are from the local universities, so May and June can be difficult times to find enough volunteers as the students have gone home for the summer.
PNO strives to keep a 1-to-1 ratio, and training will be held near the end of September, so stay tuned! My family and I are going to attend volunteer training this coming September. Will you join us?
I just wanted to share with you a little poem that captures how meaningful this program is to our family.  We appreciate Pam and all the people who volunteer so much. It is hard to adequately express our gratitude in words, but I do better with poetry than paragraphs:

Parents’ Night Out (PNO) Poem
Friday night, all dressed and ready to go!
The kids? Oh yes, they’re off to PNO.

It’s a place that is magical and filled up with love.
A place that we know is a gift from above.

Volunteers by the dozens come to help out.
It’s no ordinary affair, lots of work, no doubt.

The families are thrilled for three hours away.
The kids just love to come smile, sing, and play.

Fun-filled activities, movies, and a snack.
But your big hearts are the reason we love to come back.

We may call it a gift or a once-a-month perk.
A more suited title, “Christ’s Great Commandments at Work.”

So thanks to these people who give us so much.
In big ways and small, many lives they do touch.
– Jenn Osness

Read more about PNO and view videos on our blog posts – The Joy of Serving and The Exchange. You can also find out more on their facebook page, Parent’s Night Out – St Luke Ann Arbor, or email Pam and Tom at