San Diego Pathfinders Earn Autism Honor

In April, 107 Pathfinders gathered in San Diego at the South Bay church to earn the Rady Children’s Hospital Kristen Gist honor for autism awareness.

The Kristen Gist autism honor provides Pathfinders with a glimpse into the life of someone on the autism spectrum and explores that unique perspective.

The program was hosted by the South San Diego County Division and involved Pathfinders from six churches across the Southeastern California Conference (SECC): South Bay, Maranatha, Paradise Valley, La Mesa, 31st Street, and Broadway Spanish. The two-and-a-half-hour event was planned and facilitated by Rhonda Williams, a member from Maranatha church, and Rosanna Flores, a South Bay church member. They are also both employees of Rady Children’s Hospital.

“Rosanna and I wanted to teach Pathfinders to communicate, interact, accept, and embrace others with learning disabilities and differences, such as autism,” explained Williams.

At the event, organizers divided Pathfinders by classification level: Friends, Companions, Explorers, Rangers, Voyagers, Guides, and Master Guides. Five educators from various school districts taught learners the importance of understanding autism. The instructors included three special education teachers, a San Diego State University professor, and a San Diego County Office of Education teacher.

“Our goal was to emphasize God’s love for everyone while providing insight on developing empathy and building relationships with people on the autism spectrum,” said Williams. 

Each classification group watched informational videos and completed various activities designed to demonstrate the perspective of someone on the autism spectrum. Activities involved sensory, hands-on tools such as bubbles, texture bags, sandpaper, and parachutes. Throughout the program, educators also tasked Pathfinders with learning and defining key terms related to autism.

At the end, all the Pathfinders gathered to share and discuss what they learned about autism. Participants were excited, engaged, and eager to share. 

“As Pathfinder directors, my husband and I have always desired to collaborate with other clubs,” said Flores. “We loved fostering a sense of community, sharing ideas, supporting, and creating close friendships with directors and Pathfinders from other churches. Organizing and hosting this event was just another way of working toward this goal.”

Plans are underway to host another Pathfinder autism honor event. Pastor Meshach Soli, SECC associate youth director for club ministries, has expressed interest in seeing this honor taught on a larger scale across the conference.

For more information about Pathfinders, visit the SECC Youth Ministries website: club-ministries/.
By Danni Thaw