Johanna’s Hope, ‘A Beautiful Thing’ for people with disabilities on LI

RIVERHEAD, NY — Something wonderful is happening in Riverhead at Jo’s Farm, which offers people with disabilities a place to enjoy nature, socialize, and thrive among friends.

An event, “Johanna’s Hope FUNdraiser” will be held on Friday, August 12 from 6-9pm at Jo’s Farm, located at 467 Sound Shore Road.

The money raised will benefit Johanna’s Hope, Inc., which sponsors “Arts on Jo’s Farm,” a biweekly event that gives people with disabilities the opportunity to spend time together while trying art and simply enjoying eternal bonds that are forged on the farm.

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The “1st Annual Celebration at Jo’s Farm” includes tours of Jo’s Farm, its Art Cottage and gardens. Attendees can meet the chickens, pet the goats and watch the bees at work in Jo’s Bee Garden.

In addition, a “very special honey harvest with master beekeeper Chris Kelly of PromiseLand Apiaries” will be offered; guests can take home some fresh honey, said Eileen Benthal, Johanna Benthal’s mother.

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Space for the event is limited and pre-registration is required. Tickets cost $150 per person and include dinner, wine, beer, water, and seltzer from Barrow Food House, Bridge Lane Wine, and PBV. Also included are Jo’s homemade desserts, made with “Eggcellent Eggs” by Jo’s chicks.

Discounted prices are available for children and families caring for adults with disabilities.

For more information, please contact: eileenbenthal@johannashope.org For those unable to attend, a donation is still appreciated, Benthal said.

In a message sent about the event, Benthal said she is “the mother of an amazing young adult, Johanna Benthal, who inspires me every day to live a life of hope!”

About how the idea for Jo’s Farm came about, Benthal said: “During the pandemic, my husband and I struggled to find ways to keep our daughter safe, healthy and engaged without access to the day-to-day activities and support systems we’ve worked so hard to cherish.”

They started raising chickens, and the duties of caring for chicks and pullets and the reward of collecting eggs helped their daughter thrive during the pandemic, Benthal said.

Soon she was selling eggs to neighbors and even creating her own brand, ‘Eggcellent Eggs by Jo’s Chicks!’ Jo’s Farm was born!” she said.

Johanna Benthal. Thanks to Eileen Benthal.

A year later, Benthal said, they started raising goats because Jo told them, “My farm isn’t really a farm without goats!”

Benthal added: “As we saw our daughter flourish in social, artistic and entrepreneurial skills, we realized that we could inspire people in the communities with disabilities and others to make the same connections. We slowly started inviting other people and workshops ‘Arts on Jo’s Farm’ twice a month to make art and connect with nature and each other. That’s really beautiful.”

And so, Benthal said, Johanna’s Hope was born.

“Johanna’s Hope empowers people with disabilities and others to form social connections and creates accessible environments to explore the art and wildlife at Jo’s Farm and in the local community,” she said.

Johanna, 26, from Jamesport, has faced enormous medical challenges and countless surgeries due to an illness that causes brain hemorrhage, seizures and minor strokes – but despite battling physical hurdles, her inner faith and spirit were a shining light, to guide her path and to light the way for others.

In addition to the farm, Johanna has spent the past few years working with Stacey Soloviev, who runs Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm LI in Cutchogue, for “Sensitive Santa” nights; Soloviev is also on the board of Johanna’s Hope, Benthal said.

“Johanna Benthal is a young adult entrepreneur with disabilities who has a passion for inspiring children with special needs to find their gifts and purpose — even amid difficulties,” Soloviev said.

Soloviev came to “Jo’s Farm and Cottage” – the Benthal family has created an art space for Johanna in a bright yellow cottage; the backyard grew into the farm, with chickens and goats—to ask Jo if she’d help as a greeting to Sensitive Santa, Benthal said.

“She also offered to hire Jo as a beekeeper by purchasing a specialized beehive so Jo can watch the bees at work and collect honey through a tap system, or Flow Hive,” Benthal said.

Benthal and her daughter have followed a beekeeping course with Master Beekeeper Kelly.

And now the Benthals are giving back to others with disabilities by sharing their joy and deep faith with others.

The Benthals have hosted informal programs and helped connect other young adults with disabilities for experiences on the farm and in the arts community, she said.

“Jo shares with other people the things she loves — dogs, art, baking and hanging out on her backyard farm,” Benthal said.

Benthal added: “It’s all about finding purpose and hope. Johanna is always at the forefront. ‘Johanna’s Hope’ comes from our own experiences,” said Benthal.

What started as just an art space and farm for her daughter has grown into a place for healing and memories for many, Benthal said. “We realized how therapeutic it was for Jo. When people came to buy eggs, Johanna wanted to show them around; it gave her tasks to do, to keep her focused. Then other people with disabilities came. It’s a wonderful community that starts to grow.”

Benthal has come a long way since she first had to undergo brain surgery when she was just three months old.

The Riverhead community has watched as her family, with faith and love, guided their daughter through medical challenges.

When Eileen and Steve Benthal learned that their three-month-old baby Johanna needed brain surgery, it was faith and unending love that kept them strong.

Speaking to Patch in 2012, Benthal said that after 15 years and 79 surgeries, the Benthals learned that their daughter had cerebral cavernous malformation, or CCM3, a potentially fatal disease that causes vascular malformations in the brain — a disease for which there is no cure.
Johanna has now undergone more than 100 operations.

“You go a little bit forward, and then it’s backward,” Benthal said in a 2013 interview.

While the disease isn’t cancer, it spreads, Benthal said, putting pressure on the brain, with some malformations deep in the brain and useless. “They all pose a deadly risk,” Benthal said. “She wants healing.”

Johanna can’t read or write fluently because of her illness, although it doesn’t stop her passion for learning, her mother said.

But despite her daughter’s challenges, faith has given her infinite strength, Benthal said. And it has brought their family, including the other children of the Benthals, David, Anna and MaryAngela, closer.

“Johanna is truly a miracle — she just defies science and reason and carries on,” Benthal said. “She has always had tremendous faith and an optimistic outlook on life. Johanna is a gift in our lives.”

To read more about Johanna’s journey and the newly formed non-profit organization, click here.

For more information about the fundraiser or to donate, click here.


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