This year's retreat involved 160 people, including 31 families and 8 young adults affected by disabilities. Volunteers came from three countries: China, America and Mexico.
Our team of volunteers greeted the buses as the families arrived.
We partnered every child with a local volunteer.
For the first time, some of our volunteers came from family participants from previous Family Retreats. The tallest young man, Leo, was difficult to handle in the past, but he has grown up and is now an eager volunteer to bless others.
We've gotten to know this family this year through day camps and picnics. It was our privilege to invite them to the family retreat.
Because of a cancellation, we were able to invite this young man back with his grandparents. He is the young man who can play Mozart or Beethoven on the piano.
In the last four photos, each father (or grandfather) was involved in our dad support group. Arguably, it was the most receptive dad group ever.
Lewis and his grandmother are always a joy to be around.
Bert (in the forefront to the left) is now one of our most faithful volunteers. His buddy attends a special ed music school.
Towards the end of opening ceremony, the Joni and Friends team surprised the kids with balloons.
They also led us in our theme songs, including movements to "Fly" and "Everything's possible."
Rui Rui, who has replaced Dion as treasurer and volunteer coordinator, worked very hard to prepare the volunteers for this retreat. She is standing next to Leah.
We first met this family through the Heart to Heart English classes that we offered for two years.
Without fail, the parachute is always a favorite.
Of course, for my kids, nothing beats craft time ... except maybe a carnival or swimming, which came later.
It's amazing to watch these kids grow up. Through various projects, this is our third year to work with the twin girls.
One child loved this game so much that the Joni and Friends team let him take it home after the end of the retreat.
And of course, an event can't really be a celebration without this young man. He and his parents have faithfully been involved with most projects this year. His mother invited 5 of the families who came to this retreat, and she also went with us to Jianping last June.
It didn't matter what "ability" an adult or child had, the evening was just simply fun.
Games won stamp marks, which in turn added up to redeem prizes.
We had several young adults who did not allow a disability to stop them from serving.
Before a wheelchair is ever given out to a recipient, much preparation has to happen. To provide a behind-the-wheels look, I've included some photos given to me by Jenny, a team member with Wheels for the World (WFTW).
Catherine is our organization's logistics manager. She takes care all of the phone calls and schedule arrangements on the administrative side of our projects.
To the right of me is the leader of the county where we served the first week. On the far right is Parker, who led the WFTW team.
Brian is also a leader with Joni and Friends. He's a wonderful encourager. It's always a privilege to work with him.
It is common for the media to come out when we serve in smaller towns and communities. This community had never had an international group come and serve before, so it was a major event.
Recipients come in any way they can. We wish we could deliver wheelchairs to everyone in their home, but there's simply not enough time to do this. Recipients must come to the distribution site.
The team worked skillfully and dutifully for hours at a time. There was no guarantee for lunch. Often, there was too much work to stop for lunch.
All of the families received a copy of Joni Tada's autobiography.
It was quite amazing to watch the team work together to bless an individual.
Before and after photos tell a lot (see above and below photos).
When Helen wasn't providing physical therapy, she entertained the kids with her balloon animals.
Another glimpse of before and after (above and below photos).
Every team had a mechanic and therapist, but often, two or even three teams worked together to provide adjustments needed. It truly was a unified effort.
The surrounding area was very beautiful. I personally always stayed in the towns, but several team members served in the surrounding communities.
To make adjustments to wheelchairs, the team purchased materials like wood, foam and vinyl. It was quite impressive to see them make the chairs mold into specific individuals.
We're not able to share photos of the orphanage, but I've seldom seen people labor with more love. For more than ten hours, the team adjusted the chairs for orphans with severe disabilities. Few people around the world will ever know what love was shared with those wheelchairs. I wasn't able to do much that day, but I was glad to help sand wood and bring in dinner.
Over the last two weeks, we served more than 200 people, but there will always be those who stand out in our memories. If you ever have a chance to join a Wheels for the World team, it is a life-changing adventure. It was a privilege to be a part.