Jim and Donna Vogel felt a calling to make sure that those with special needs are able to learn about and express their faith.
The couple does not have any formal training in special education, but for the past 15 years, they have operated Quincy SPIRIT, which stands for Special People in Religious Instruction Today. The program, which meets every other Wednesday from September through May and is sponsored by Blessed Sacrament Church and the Diocese of Springfield, has 26 participants from ages 6 to 55.
"It was a struggle at first," Jim said. "I really questioned myself. Donna was pushing me more than to get going with it. I had a lot of questions on whether we could do this. We prayed about it. I just said, ‘God, lead us where you want us to go.'"
"They bless us more than we do them," Donna said. "The spirituality in them just blows us away. They love unconditionally. They're just genuine."
Students in the program have a special bond with residents at St. Vincent's Home. They bring flowers on Valentine's Day, make cards and play bingo.
"God has always provided us with the volunteers and the financial support, and they love it," Donna said. "It's their own special place. For special needs people, a lot of times there's not just that environment for their faith."
Donna: "There was a brother that helped us when we first got started, and his name was Brother Tom Smith. He was from Quincy University. With him, we started the program in 1998. We started with about eight volunteers."
Jim: "If you had your worst day at work and you come and spend an evening with us, you leave there feeling great. They just turn your day around. You leave there happy and enthused. Everything that comes out of them is honest."
Donna: "Sometimes we've put on a Christmas program at Mass. That is very humbling. Each time we've done that, we get a standing ovation. It brings tears to the congregation to see these special needs people put on this program."
Jim: "Monsignor Mike Kuse, our pastor, he's been an inspiration and a great help to the organization. It's been great. He's given us a lot of support."
Jim: "They always brought a lot of compassion and a lot of love. You get a hug, and it's a million-dollar hug."
Donna: "One of our gals, when we first started, would have her clothes laid out like a week ahead of time getting ready to come to the program."
Jim: "We try to do it so that the parents wouldn't have to put any money into it or their time. It gives them a little time. They have them 24-7. We only got them for an hour-and-a-half. It gives them a little opportunity to do something else for themselves. It gives them a little freedom."
Donna: "It's them that teach us. They've taught us what love really is."
Jim: "I'll do it as long as the good Lord wants me to."
Donna: "These kids kind of fall through the cracks as far getting their preparations for (the sacraments). We will work with them to prepare them to receive their first communion or confirmation."
Jim and Donna Vogel were interviewed by Staff Writer Matt Hopf and photographed by Photo Editor Phil Carlson.