If life gets you down or you need a dose of encouragement, the example set by Gail and Steve Bass of Harrisburg will change your perspective.
After having two children, the Basses, both now in their 60s, decided to become foster parents when their youngest was 10. They were licensed in Cabarrus County, and over the next 20 years they fostered 52 children.
"Gail's specialty was caring for those with special needs of all kinds," Steve said.
Eventually the couple adopted six children, including four with special needs.
In September 2007, the Basses started the Friendship Class.
The ministry is for adults and children with physical, mental and developmental disabilities. It meets 5:30-7 p.m. Sundays at the Kings Way Baptist Church Carriage House, 7550 Ruben Linker Road in Concord.
"We immediately saw a need for a place for these kids to go where they could socialize and make lots of new friends," said Gail. "Of all the churches we attended there was never a class for our kids where they could be themselves."
When the couple came to Kings Way Baptist, they shared their vision for a safe haven for special adults and kids, where they could be accepted and loved, with Pastor Bradley Price and Assistant Pastor David Snow.
Both encouraged them to begin the ministry.
Although the Basses lead the group, their vision included having mentors from the community come and form bonds with the members of the group.
"This bond happens naturally. You just come and see who you connect with, help them, become a friend and take it from there," said mentor Jean Lott.
The members range in age from 4 to 40. Mentors are church members, UNCCharlotte students, local businesspeople and, at times, family members.
Each class begins with a group prayer time. Attendees hold hands, and each shares something.
"Thank you for a place to meet where we can love each other and have people to show us how to do that," mentor Kim Lott said, sharing at a recent gathering.
After prayer time is song time, usually interactive with dancing. Then Gail Bass gives a short Bible lesson with a craft or an activity.
In a recent lesson, Gail taught about guardian angels, explaining that everyone has a guardian angel watching over them.
Mikayla, 13, replied, "You mean like my mommy and daddy who take care of me?"
Each member understands the teaching on their own level.
"These special people deserve a chance to hear and learn about God's love and deserve to be treated with respect and to enjoy friendships with others that know God," Gail said.
After the lesson, the group has a snack together and they go to another recreation room for a dance party. Hugs happen all around.
Nicole Locklear, 22, was one of the first to join the class.
"This class is a blessing to our entire family and is now the highlight of Nicole's life," said Harriet Locklear, Nicole's mom.
Teal Dayvault, 16, came to her first meeting recently. Her mother explained she would not talk much or interact with anyone.
Brittany Foster, a student volunteer mentor from UNCC, helped Teal feel comfortable. On her second visit, Teal laughed and danced the entire time.
"It is simply amazing to see an environment where people with and without disabilities come together and have so much fun," Foster said.
Wendy Pipkin, 39, and her sister Dotty, 41, of Kannapolis have flourished as a result of the Friendship Class. Their father, Clifford Pipkin, drives them to class each week.
"Steve and Gail have drawn them out and helped them to move their hands," Clifford Pipkin said. "They have taught them the joy of socializing; we couldn't be more pleased."
Assistant Pastor Snow affirmed the positive effects of the Friendship Class.
"God has blessed our church for having this class; however, it would never be possible without the dedication of Steve and Gail Bass," he said.
The class is self-supporting; often the Basses donate the supplies and food.
"We do not have a budget and depend solely on donations," Gail Bass said.
The success of the class is the friendships that have formed and the love the mentors show their friends.
You can see class members' self-esteem improving, allowing each one to become a participant instead of an observer.
As you look around at the smiling faces and hear the conversation, it is evident the Basses are the guardian angels.