Belonging and Inclusion Aren’t Easily Found by Families Living With Disability

By |Published On: June 17, 2022|Categories: Family Retreats, Stories|
Buddy, a man with cerebral palsy, holding hands with his mom Sheila and a volunteer who is cut out of the shot in a time of prayer and worship.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!… For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Psalm 133:1, 3

Driving home from Family Retreat with her son, Buddy, Sheila wept tears of joy.

“I just can’t say enough about Family Retreat. I had high expectations, but Joni and Friends met every one, above and beyond what I could have ever imagined. My heart was so full!”


At birth, Buddy weighed one pound and 11 ounces. Doctors told Sheila that Buddy would only live a few years at most. Yet last March, Buddy celebrated his 39th birthday.

“Buddy is 39 and he’s like a three-month-old,” Sheila says. Buddy is blind and has cerebral palsy. He can’t speak, uses a wheelchair, and receives his nourishment from a feeding tube.

Despite the hardships Buddy faces, Sheila is honored to be his mother. Even as his primary caregiver, she says that Buddy gives her more than she could ever give him.

Buddy's mom, Sheila, smiling wide as she pushes Buddy's wheelchair towards the retreat center. Buddy is also smiling and holding his mom's hands, he has a couple blankets over his lap.

“I feel like Buddy is God’s child, and I’m just watching over him. From the moment I had him, I’ve been at peace with my life. God definitely knew what he was doing by giving me Buddy,” says Sheila.

Sheila loves talking about Buddy and says her life would have been incomplete without him.

As she put it: “Buddy is the most amazing person in the whole world. He makes me smile. When you meet him, he changes your life before you know it!”

But for Sheila and Buddy, like many families living with disability, belonging and inclusion don’t always come easily.

Some people turn away from Buddy, fearing that in his presence, they won’t know what to say or how to act.

Because of people’s responses, Sheila and Buddy often feel unwelcome when away from home and family. But at Family Retreat, they had an uncommon and deeply fulfilling experience. “Every day should be like that,” Sheila said about their Retreat experience.

Now, Sheila wants other families impacted by disability to know the same bonds of love and acceptance that she and Buddy found at Family Retreat. She has started getting her community involved with Joni and Friends and raises funds to provide Family Retreat scholarships to other families!

Even in her work as a bus driver for special education students, Sheila carries the hope of Christ she experienced at Family Retreat to each of her passengers.

“I really hope the kids on my bus feel the way that we felt when we were at Family Retreat.”


Many families struggling with disability can’t afford to attend Family Retreat without financial support. The Lord can use you to send more families to Family Retreat for love, respite, and the hope of the Gospel!

Buddy being pushed in his wheelchair at the front of a conga line, his mom, Sheila, looking down at him, smiling and holding his hand.
A typically-abled woman smiling and hugging a young girl in a wheelchair.

Support Joni and Friends Illinois

Your generous gift today will make it possible for more families living with disability to experience Jesus at Family Retreat!

Recent Posts