Family retreat being planned for Jumonville

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

From July 29 to Aug. 2, the faith-based disability organization Joni and Friends will host one of its annual family retreats in Jumonville.

This family retreat represents one of 24 sites in United States and aims at serving people with disabilities with “Christ-like encouragement and friendship,” according to the website,

“It was spawned out of a great need because the waiting list was so long for the other locations in the area,” said Carol Stewart, a Joni and Friends contact in Uniontown and a three-year Jumonville volunteer. According to the organization's website, “They answer the call in the Gospel of Luke 14, ‘Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed ... make them come in so my house will be full.”'

“We welcome all people with disabilities,” Stewart said, “and are currently looking for volunteers for the retreat.”

Volunteers, known as Short Term Missionaries, or STMs, will be matched with a disabled child or adult and, according to the website, “Will simply be a friend and give the gift of time and love.”

The estimated cost for a family of four is $1,125 and roughly $385 for STMs. Each retreat takes roughly 100 staff members.

Stewart explained that Jumonville is the only location in the area that is not booked up for this year. She feels this is because not many people know about it.

There are 13 families signed up to attend with a maximum capacity of 36 families based on past years. The capacity varies depending on the family size.

Stewart's dream is to have more people attend and for various churches and civic groups to sponsor families so they wouldn't have to pay out-of-pocket.

“This is a short-term mission experience,” Stewart said. “It does not require a passport or airfare.”

Joni and Friends was founded in 1979 by Joni Eareckson-Tada who, after a diving accident at 17, was left a quadriplegic. Since then, she has dedicated her life to helping families and people affected by disabilities.

An example of someone affected by Joni and Friends is 11-year-old Mill Run resident, Bailey Pritts.

Bailey, who has a rare neurological disorder and is non-verbal, attended her first family retreat at Jumonville last summer.

Her mother, Wendy, described how the event affected her daughter and her family.

“It (Jumonville) was revitalizing and gave us a break from our normal chaotic life,” she said. “It is a place where you can connect with people who share your same beliefs and understand what it is like to have a child or know someone with a disability.”

Wendy described her daughter as someone who rarely interacts with people she does not know. However, during the retreat, she saw her become more outgoing, independent and confident with herself and others.

The event helped the bond between Wendy and her husband, Earl.

“One night, they (STMs) took the kids for pizza and my husband and I had a romantic dinner,” she said. “Earl and I never have the time for just us.”

Stewart and Wendy Pritts agreed that the summer retreat is inspirational and that it gives families a chance to do what they usually cannot.

The Pritts family still communicates with their STM from last year.

Stewart was an STM for the Schultz family, who live seven hours away in Horsehead, N.Y. She recalls what they said to her during last year's retreat.

“Carol, as long as I'm alive, my family will never miss this.”

For information on family applications and volunteer requirements, please visit the Joni and Friends website or call 937-352-4095.

Andrew Hesner is a freelance writer.

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