Joni and Friends Celebrates People with Disabilities and their Families

By |Published On: September 5, 2023|Categories: Family Retreats, For Parents, Stories|
A picture of John at half-time respite with his two Joni and Friends buddy volunteers on either side of him. He is smiling wide at the camera with his two thumbs up.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28–30

Glen and Emily know the joys and challenges that come with raising children with disabilities.

Part of the Joni and Friends community for many years, they used to attend Family Retreat with their son, Gabriel, who lived with Aicardi-Goutières syndrome, a rare disease, until he passed away.

In a reflection Glen wrote in the wake of Gabriel’s death, he shared how Joni and Friends Family Retreat blessed and enriched his family—and his own experience as a special needs father.

As Glen said: “With the presence of a disability understood, expected, and even celebrated, men from around the country become vulnerable. We allow ourselves to express our wounds which we have felt the need to keep hidden from the world and even sometimes our families. Relationships, which usually take years to forge, often only take hours because a commonality has been established simply by our mutual presence at the Family Retreat. Much of the work of relationship building has already been done. Often by the Friday Closing Ceremony, new lifelong friendships have been forged. Just the kind of relationship we need to increase the quality of life of our family.”

John’s Story

Now, years later, Glen and Emily have a son named John. At nearly nine years old, John lives with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that causes attention deficit disorder and a range of other symptoms and behavioral issues. For his parents, John’s needs translate into constant caregiving responsibilities. Like many parents raising children with disabilities, Glen and Emily often find themselves exhausted and in need of respite.

“It’s definitely not easy to get a break. Finding someone we can trust who can put up with the behaviors caused by John’s disability is very difficult,” says Emily.

“We only get about three hours of rest each night. The sleep deprivation is overwhelming,” says Glen.

There’s no doubt that Glen and Emily need rest and rejuvenation, and that’s where Halftime Respite comes in!

Finding Refreshment and Joy

Amid the challenges of life with disability, the Joni and Friends Halftime Respite program offers families the rest, acceptance, and freedom they long for.

“Halftime Respite makes us all feel safe and accepted. It’s very comforting knowing we have a place where John can come and play with other children with special needs. At Halftime Respite, John gets to be John.”

John and a Joni and Friends Half-Time Respite volunteer sitting and playing a game at a table.

“At Joni and Friends, people with disabilities are celebrated for who they are… John’s favorite part of Halftime Respite is being with his buddies. Together they draw, do art projects, and worship. John’s buddies bring him joy!”


And what do John’s parents do while he’s having a blast with his Halftime Respite buddies? Emily smiles…

“We go out on a date. We have dinner and go for a walk and have time together that we don’t get otherwise. Joni and Friends showers us all with love and attention,” she says.

You can provide families like Glen and Emily’s with the gift of respite!

Families navigating disability often name respite care as their top unmet need. Together we can change this!

Support Joni and Friends

Your donation today will provide respite and refreshment to parents, and the experience of true belonging to children with disabilities.

Recent Posts