Johns turns personal pain of disability into passion for others (July 2, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Johns turns personal pain of disability into passion for others

July 2, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0102}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

MERRITT ISLAND — June Johns' passion as a crusader for the physically and mentally disadvantaged began in her childhood and continues today, helping the United Methodist Church in Florida reach out to people in need.

Johns, a member of Hollywood Hills United Methodist Church in Hollywood from 1968 until 1995 and now a member of Suntree United Methodist Church in Melbourne, has a sister who has osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bones disorder and another who has Downs Syndrome. As a result Johns was intimately involved with caring for the needs of the disadvantaged from a young age. The tug at her heart to care for the disabled was magnified when her 10-month-old son, Mark, was diagnosed with epilepsy after suffering from severe seizures.

"It's natural for me to notice obstacles for people when you've been living with a family that has special needs," Johns said.

Johns was thrust further into the issues of caring for those with disabilities when Mark requested to live in a group home after Wendy, his sister, went to college. After calling the Florida Conference to locate a Wesley Group Home Ministry, Johns was dismayed when she learned there wasn't one. She placed Mark in a Lutheran group home in Winter Garden and began a personal mission to start a Wesley Group Home Ministry that could benefit other families.

Already serving on the West Palm Beach District Council of Ministries, Johns shared her concerns with her pastor, then the Rev. Larry Purvis, about the need for group homes, and he agreed. In September 1989 the two traveled to Miami to talk with members of Riverside United Methodist Church there who were also interested in building a group home. The two churches decided to join forces on the project as a special of the Miami and former West Palm Beach districts. The West Palm Beach District was renamed Broward Palm Beach in 2002.

Johns was elected president of the board of directors of Wesley Group Home Ministries at its first meeting Oct. 29, 1989. It was an exciting and scary time for Johns and the newly formed board of directors.

"I was terrified," she recalled. "We made a pact that none of us knew what we were doing, but we would work together, stick together and not blame anybody if something went wrong."

Something did go wrong, but there was no stopping Johns and the board of directors, who vowed not to surrender the dream of housing mentally challenged adults. The City of Hallendale voted not to allow the group home to be built on two one-third acre lots by Hallendale Haitian United Methodist Mission in Hallendale. After five months of legal maneuvering and threats of more than $100,000 in federal fines, the commissioners had a change heart and approved the construction of the group home.

Homeowners in the community were still against building the group home in their neighborhood, but the board of directors sued the city and won. Under federal anti-discrimination law, a city can't reject a group home based on neighbors' opposition. That milestone took place in early 1995, and groundbreaking began two years later.

Residents moved into the four-bedroom group home Aug. 1, 1998. It houses six mentally challenged adults and provides 24-hour assistance for its residents.

Johns said the saga of the group home ended well.

"It's so exciting to go against city hall, but you can if you have God on your side. At first the neighborhood didn't want us, now they love us. I see God's hands in this," she said. "I have two sisters with disabilities and a son, so I see three different ways of approaching things. I may not have cared had I not lived it. I can honestly say when you live it, it's different."

In the future Johns said she would like to see a group home in every district. She said it's difficult for parents to grapple with the decision of who will take care of their mentally challenged children after they are deceased.

"If there are other children in the family, it's not fair to put that on them," she said. "It's a huge concern. I have a peace of mind of knowing that the residents we house will have a home, a place that will take care of them."

The conference would do well to establish other group and nursing homes, Jones said. She said building group homes is an excellent way to be involved in evangelism and missions.

"Jesus said, 'Tend my sheep'," she said. "If we want people to know Christ, we have to meet their needs. The money is there to do all the things we need to do. The physically challenged cannot be ignored."

Churches are making advances in caring for the disabled, such as providing sign language interpreters during services, ramps for wheelchair access and large print worship bulletins, according to Johns. She said ministry is about ministering to the total person.

"You become concerned about a person's health, their well-being and their spiritual life," she said. "You begin to see the big picture."


This article relates to Health and Wholeness.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011