Matt and Marie are the proud parents of five sons: Luke (19), Kyle (17), Cole (15), Jace (9), and Blake (1). Kyle and Jace both have Down syndrome, but very different energy levels. Kyle is sweet and loves affection and slow-paced walks, while Jace is curious, and full of non-stop energy.
“Life is much harder having kids with special needs. They require a lot of our attention. It also limits what we can be involved in. There are certain places where we cannot go. Having kids with special needs can become very isolating if you are not intentional about getting out as a family. Many people do not understand how hard it can be. We have very few people who are willing to watch our kids,” says Matt.
When Kyle was little, he had trouble processing different environments and would often yell out when he became over-stimulated. This presented a challenge for Matt and Marie as they often would need to leave public places or events early, or would just decide to stay home. But knowing they would find belonging and acceptance with the Joni and Friends community, they gladly come to Family Retreat year after year for much-needed fun and spiritual refreshment.
Family Retreat: A Place for the Whole Family
“I remember the first night at Family Retreat when we were having dinner with other families. I was thinking, ‘Wow, we aren’t the only family dealing with this!’ It was such a blessing to be around other families who got it. Once we were around other families like ours, we had an instant connection with them.”
But Family Retreat isn’t just a blessing to Kyle and Jace. It’s equally important for their brothers. Connecting with other typical siblings who understand what it’s like living with disability is vital for Luke and Cole.
Matt shared: “It’s a blessing for our typical kids to have buddies who hang out with them all week. The volunteers made them feel just as special as their siblings. We really fell in love with the fact that Joni and Friends ministers to the whole family.”
Giving Back as a Family
Luke and Cole (now 19 and 15) and have been serving as volunteers for the last two years while attending Family Retreat. They find joy and purpose, encouraging others with the joy and encouragement they have found through Joni and Friends for years.
And for Matt, being part of Joni and Friends has been integral to finding his life calling.
As he says: “When we first attended family camp, I was still in the trucking industry. God used our son Kyle to call me into the ministry. After attending Family Retreat as a family five different times, I have now served as the camp pastor for the last five years at family camp. I love being able to connect with families each year. I love being able to put messages together that help families who are attending camp each year. While I’m there to minister to families, I am blessed each year I serve.”
For Matt, Marie, and their family, Joni and Friends has made a life-changing difference, not only through Family Retreat but by partnering with their church to start a disability ministry.
“Church used to be hard for us, but our church has partnered with Joni and Friends to start a disability ministry. There are people who come along side our kids each week as buddies, so they can be part of the youth group and children’s ministry. This allows us to go to Sunday school and get a break from the kids for a little bit.”
Joni and Friends changes lives year-round through domestic and international Retreats & Getaways. At the same time, Joni and Friends is equipping the church to love and serve people living with disability. And you can be part of this Gospel work by supporting Joni and Friends.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”