Joni & Friends Louisiana began with a calling, a question and the generosity of the Zachary community.
Joni & Friends is the leading global ministry serving individuals and families affected by disabilities. For over 40 years, the ministry has shared hope through hardship, raised awareness and provided outreach to thousands of families. In 2005, Baton Rouge native Martie Kwasny discovered that East Baton Rouge Parish was home to 63,000 people touched by disability, and the numbers for surrounding parishes were astounding. Shortly after that discovery, God called her and her husband, Dr. John C. Kwasny from Plains Presbyterian Church, where they attended for 14 years, to lead Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Ridgeland, Mississippi. John served as the Director of Christian Education and Family Life at Plains Presbyterian and now serves as the Director of Discipleship Ministries at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church.
Only a few weeks into their new journey, a founding elder asked John if he was there to serve all of the families. “Of course,” John told him. “What’s behind your question?” The man opened up about his daughter who has intellectual and physical disabilities. The family had not worshipped together or attended a Bible Study in 36 years due to the care she requires. “It broke his heart,” said Martie. “He came home and asked, ‘Martie, will you help me start a disability ministry?’”
As a professional counselor and teacher, Martie knew of the needs of families touched by disability. “I thought the church was taking care of them, and I realized we were not.” She got involved in the Jackson community through Joni & Friends.
“We energize the church to move from lack of awareness of people impacted by disability to including everyone into the fabric of worship, fellowship, and outreach,” the website reads. After starting the Joni & Friends office in Jackson, Mississippi, “my desire was to go back and bring that to my home.” And that’s how Joni & Friends Louisiana was established. Martie serves as the Senior Area Director for the organization.
The grassroots effort to form a Louisiana chapter began right here in Zachary, with Plains Presbyterian, First Baptist of Zachary and Greenwell Springs Baptist providing respite events for families. The organization held conferences, workshops and assisted families in attending the Alabama Family Retreat. Dr. Chad and Ashley Morris opened their home to host families touched by disability for an annual spring picnic. As the mission grew, so did the need for an office. In 2019, the Louisiana office was established through a partnership with Istrouma Baptist.
From local business owners who are long-time supporters of the organization to volunteers and congregations involved in providing events and programs, the generosity of the Zachary Community has been a cornerstone of the success of Joni & Friends Louisiana. “Zachary has been monumental for Joni & Friends,” said Martie. The ministry has grown substantially over the last few years.
This year, Joni & Friends Louisiana will host the first-ever national sibling weekend in April at Judson Baptist Retreat Center. About 100 siblings of all ages will come together to empower and encourage one another.
To learn more about Joni & Friends Louisiana and how you can get involved, visit Joniandfriends.org/louisiana or email Alyssa Chauvin, Ministry of Operations Manager at email@example.com.