All parents want the best for their children. Close bonds, good friends, strong values and sense of belonging. But sometimes unexpected things happen that can truly turn a family’s life upside down.
Such was the case five years ago for Osceola YMCA members Eric and Janelle Jenkins. As the parents of two beautiful little boys with a third on the way, things seemed nearly perfect. But when Eli was born with a rare development disability, their life was shattered.
“Eli’s birth was life-changing,” said Janelle. “Caring for him was all-consuming. And without family nearby, it was all up to Eric and me. Taking Eli to a restaurant, the mall, day care or a play date was impossible. For the first three years of his life, we just stopped going out.”
Concerned about their other sons, Eric and Janelle joined the Y in 2010 so the boys could play sports and make friends. What they didn’t count on was the love and support the entire family would receive from other parents and Y staff.
“Everybody really embraced us,” Eric said. “With a disabled child, you’re never sure how people will react, but from the start everybody was incredible.”
And when they eventually felt comfortable enough to leave Eli – and their newest baby, Jonah − in the Y’s child care center, they knew they’d come full circle. “Everyone immediately welcomed Eli and put us at ease,” Janelle said. “It was really the turning point for us to be able to reconnect with our other kids and each other.”
As scholarship recipients, the Jenkins give back through volunteering. Eric loves coaching youth soccer and basketball and Janelle helps out in other ways. “Volunteering is a way we can repay what we’ve received from the Y,” Janelle said. “By being part of the Y family, we’ve become a stronger family and for that we’re truly grateful.”
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