A video of a young boy hugging a church friend for the first time in more than a year is making headlines, Fox News reported.
What are the details?
Erin Witkowski, mother of special needs child Grady Witkowski, 11, filmed her son hugging his friend Katy Herridge at Liquid Church in Parsippany, New Jersey, after the family had taken more than a yearlong break amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The video quickly gained traction on social media, and Witkowski ended up speaking with Fox News to detail the heartfelt reunion.
She told the outlet that her son, who has Down syndrome, was elated to be able to return to church — which he says is his “favorite place in the entire world” — to bond with his fellow congregants.
“We drive a really far way because they make a place for any child — no matter what their needs or what their disability is — they make a way for those children to attend,” she told the outlet. “Every child with special needs that goes there gets a buddy to be with them during children’s service. It gives them the opportunity to be with the other children, have a great time, worship, and learn.”
The mom of four said that her son was ecstatic when they returned to the church earlier this month, and was able to document the heartfelt, tearful reunion in a video, which she shared on social media.
Of the stirring moment, Witkowski said, “This folks is what making a seat at the table for everyone looks like. Tears ran down to see this moment.”
She shared a clip of the tearful reunion to her Instagram page documenting the reunion.
In the video, Grady can be seen running toward Herridge, who appears equally as excited to see him.
The two embraced as Herridge begins to swing the 11-year-old around.
In another video shared to her Instagram page, Witkowski’s shared her son’s excitement as the family traveled to the church in their vehicle.
“18 months ago was the last time we were able to go to church … Grady asked almost everyday for @liquidchurch and the today filming him pulling in today was heaven on earth… no time, distance or virus can erase the joy in his heart for a place he calls home … it’s not the building but the hands and feet of Jesus that are alive within the walls, that make a seat at the table for kids like Grady and ALL people and abilities !!!” she wrote. “We know he was a handful today in kids church being that he’s been out of routine/school for a year and half and his pure uncontainable excitement was in full display but we are so grateful for @liquidmorriscounty and giving Paul and I a chance to worship in person and a place to call home (now only if we can get a location in #sussexnj[.]”
In the video, Grady’s frenetic and joyful anticipation is visible as he rides in the car to the family’s church.
Witkowski told Fox News that the church is central to the family’s life.
“It is his favorite place in the whole world because it’s a church that makes a way for him in such a wildly loving and accepting way,” Witkowski told the outlet. “To see Grady and Katy reunited in such a beautiful [way] was epic! I feel like we get a little taste of heaven on Sunday morning in the form of acceptance and inclusion.”
She added, “And not only for Grady to experience people who were trained, but also my other children who are typically functioning can see their brother being welcomed and treated like everyone else is really special, too.”
Suzi Soares, the church kids and special needs pastor, told the outlet that it is dedicated to all of its parishioners — especially those children with special needs.
“At Liquid, it’s our privilege and passion to serve children with a wide variety of special needs, including autism, Aspergers syndrome, Down syndrome, and ADHD,” Soares said. “We understand that having a child with special needs is life-changing. It’s our heart for every child to be supported, to engage with their peers and feel a sense of belonging. Our buddy program was designed so that children just like Grady can participate in our kids environments during weekend services. Grady is an incredible kid with an infectious enthusiasm for life, so it’s our honor to accommodate his needs so he can experience the heart of our Heavenly Father.”