This past Sunday, we introduced you to Joe Butler of Ability Tree. Joe is the father of a child with autism who is being used by God to serve other families impacted by disabilities. We’re sharing Part Two of the Butler’s story today.
Joe is an Assemblies of God U.S. missionary to persons with disabilities and their families. Joe and his wife, Jennifer, founded Ability Tree as a religious nonprofit corporation in June of 2010. Joe holds a B.A. in Bible from Valley Forge Christian College and is graduating in May from California Baptist University with an M.A. in Disability Studies, with a concentration in Disability Ministry. Joe and Jen live in Northwest Arkansas with their three children, Hannah, Micah, and Clara.
Here’s Part Two of the Butler’s story…
Through our ministry experience as interim youth pastors in 1999 to full-time vocational pastors, starting in 2004 and continuing today, my wife Jen and I noticed that families of children with disabilities were a missing piece in the body of Christ in the majority of churches across the country. In order to connect with these families we had to go where they were, in the community, not the church. With the hope of building a support network for these families, which includes connecting them to a local, accessible church.
After much prayer and confirmation, both Jen and I sensed that it was our life mission to reach out to other families like our own. In August of 2008, we took a step of faith to come alongside these families through mission work in the United States. We started traveling around the country, sharing a message of inclusion with the church, helping churches to become more accessible in their place (facility), people, and programs.
In October of 2009, at a special needs conference in Wisconsin, my wife and I sat next to a pastor and his wife from Northwest Arkansas. We soon found out that we both had children with special needs. After sharing our stories with one another, he invited our family to come to his church to share our mission. We flew out and spoke the weekend before Thanksgiving. That morning, I shared something I had never shared before, a dream of launching a special needs outreach center in Northwest Arkansas that would reach out to families impacted by disability around the country. Shortly after we arrived back home, I shared the idea with my pastor in New Jersey and with some other close friends of mine. The next day, the pastor from Arkansas called, and I shared with him that I think God is directing us to move down to Arkansas. Ironically, he called to tell me the same exact thing! Nine months later, we were living in Northwest Arkansas and the dream of a special needs outreach center was a reality.
In June of 2010 we founded Ability Tree as a religious nonprofit corporation in the state of Arkansas. The mission of Ability Tree is to reach out to families impacted by disability through recreation, education, support, and training (R.E.S.T.), we aim to partner with individuals and organizations to raise awareness and build support networks to strengthen and grow able families. We envision individuals and families, living with special needs, being accepted and supported in their local community, enjoying healthy relationships in their schools, workplaces, and churches.
One of the first individuals we met in Northwest Arkansas, was Josh Allen, of Allens Inc. Less than a year after we moved to NWA, Allens gave us a space, in downtown Siloam Springs, for the first Ability Tree Center which would be a place of R.E.S.T. for families impacted by special needs as well as a place where volunteers could learn how to interact with children with disabilities and their families through a variety of programming. School-aged children with special needs and their siblings can enjoy after school, art, and recreation programs, while parents and can receive support and resources to help strengthen their family. Businesses and organizations, like the church, can also receive special needs consulting and gain access to a library of resources.
In New Jersey, we operate a 5-day, overnight Summer Camp, called the Ability Camp, as well as a 2-week Summer Day Camp, free family-friendly community events, and weekend respite programs for children with special needs and their siblings. Currently we have offices and programming in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and New Jersey with the long term goal of having Ability Tree Centers in Main Street U.S.A. towns across the country.
The vision of Ability Tree is big. It’s my life mission, and will take at least a lifetime to see fulfilled. We have already seen glimpses of the vision God placed in our hearts. Listen to what one of our volunteer families wrote recently…
Ability Tree is a place where my family and I have felt like we can make a difference for the individuals and families affected by disabilities. It occurred to me one day what a gift and responsibility this is for us all, not just for these specific families. Ability Tree strives to provide and strengthen community for these individuals and families, so Ability Tree is trying to reach us all.
The mom of one of our families of a child with special needs recently shared…
They [Ability Tree] have become very special to our family as we are impacted by special needs! The services, comfort, and happiness they provide to children are beyond words! My child finally has a place to go where he is not the child everyone pics on. He is accepted and that means the world to me. They have introduced us to other parents and provide a MUCH needed support group in our area! The Christian based foundation is truly a gift from GOD along with all of the amazing volunteers that give of their time.
The satisfaction of knowing God is working through Ability Tree is amazing to me! It wasn’t long ago that I was asking God, “Why did you allow this to happen to my son”? My perspective on life has changed over the past 12 years, I would say I see more clearly what really matters and where real value lies. I thank God for Micah and who He created him to be! Being around other individuals and families living with special needs everyday, reminds me to live in the now, and not get caught up in the worries and cares of this world. I am thankful for that.
This past December, Micah turned 12. He is walking, talking in complete sentences, and becoming more independent each day. He’s also pestering his sisters like any good brother would do. Most importantly, he absolutely loves God, life and people. Micah is the heartbeat of Ability Tree. We are currently in a capital campaign called Project Grow to finish phase two of the Siloam Springs Ability Tree Center, which will turn an old theatre into a Recreation Center complete with indoor basketball court, soccer and whiffle ball fields. Please pray that God will provide the needed funds to carry out this part of the vision. I would love for you to follow our story, and to learn about your story. You can find us on the web at abilitytree.org, and on social media at facebook.com/abilitytreeinc and on Twitter at @abilitytree.
On a mission,
Ability Tree reaches out to families impacted by disability through recreation, education, support and training (R.E.S.T.). We aim to partner with individuals and organizations to raise awareness and build support networks to strengthen and grow able families.
The Ability Camp allows people with intellectual and/or physical disabilities to take part in various camp-style activities that they may not be able to participate in otherwise, and gives caregivers a 5-day respite. Watch this video to see what the Ability Camp is all about.