John Felageller is the Ministry Relations Manager at Joni and Friends Chicago. Previous to that, he spent almost 20 years in education, working with children from Infants to Middle School, serving in a variety of roles including Teacher, Mentor Teacher and School Director. John lives in Highwood, IL and is a single father to his son Christopher (ASD). He is a public speaker, multiple podcast guest, and regular contributor to Key Ministry’s Special Needs Family blog, as well as other special needs blogs including Hope Anew and The Mighty. Connect with John on his website: www.johnfelageller.com
Facebook: Johns Special Needs Blog
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Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the autism and action podcast today we have another very special guest. We've got Mr. John Felek eller, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. John,
thank you so much. I'm very excited to be here.
Awesome. Well, John, you are serving a much needed audience. Awesome autism dad. And looks like moms too. But can you tell us a little bit about how you got into this and and your history?
Sure, absolutely. Well, I think the first thing that I would start out with is the fact that I am a special needs parent, I have a special needs dad, like most special needs dads, I started out really with just the understanding that my child had a diagnosis of autism. And when you receive a diagnosis like that, and his case, when he was diagnosed over 10 years ago, it was still pervasive developmental disorder. But now we're all just autism spectrum. It's a tough thing to carry. And it's a tough thing to work with. And like most parents, I think I was just confused, uncertain, scared, anxious. And the experience that I had, I think it's pretty typical of most dads, which is on the one hand, as the dad and also as a man, that kind of, you know that that kind of dynamic of being a father and a man is you just want to fix stuff. And unfortunately, this is something you just can't fix. It's also not something you can just write a big check for, and make it go away. And I was never a guy who could do that anyway. But regardless, this is something where you really have to get in and get your hands dirty. And one of the things that I saw early on was the fact that one, it was really hard to find support among other parents, family groups, that type of thing, because there is support for a lot of stuff out there. And certainly, there's a lot for special needs. But even 10 years ago, there wasn't as much as there is today. And I think, you know, technology and the internet, and a lot of these virtual communities are really helping that. But you know, I started out, you know, just trying to figure out what, what can I really do here, my, my wife, my ex wife, now, my son's mom, who's a wonderful mom, and has always been a great mom was really the one that kind of jumped in there, which I think is also typical of what we see. So she was the one who was handling the insurance, and the doctors and the appointments and the therapist and all of this. And even though I supported her with that, I still felt like I didn't have a place like what was it that I really did here? How can I really contribute? So several years ago, I started a couple things, I believe it or not, I actually started out by just trying to get the local dads together from my son's school, to just kind of have like a special needs dad support group. And this was probably about seven, eight years ago. And I will tell you that I invited all the dads out that I personally knew just, you know, from being around their families and stuff in the community. And you know, I had about eight or 10 Guys come out that first time we just met up like a local sports bar and just, you know, kind of have a meal and a couple of beers and stuff. And after that, I would tell you that basically no one showed. Because I think it's one of these things where men are like, Okay, I'm gonna do what I know to do. And generally that's work. And that's provide for the family, and contribute to pay for all of these things, but sharing my feelings. talking to guys, I don't really know talking about something, it's really personal, you know, we don't do that. That's just not our thing. So I kind of floated for a little bit, and then through a variety of different circumstances. You know, one of the things that I really have always wanted to be was a writer, you know, I always thought about writing and writing and writing a book about something. And over the years, kind of my focus changed. I'm a teacher. So at first I thought maybe I'd write a book about teaching. And then with my special needs, I'm, well maybe I'll write a book about that. And I got connected with a woman in the Chicago area who actually was did a variety of things, in terms of just advocacy work and special needs ministry type stuff. And she's like, you know, I blogged for this small organization up in Wisconsin, we're really looking for dads and, you know, other men to kind of join our team, why don't you try it if you're looking to kind of break into writing, and I said, sure, like, I never really thought about blogging, that just wasn't how I wasn't wired to think. But I gave it a shot. And and they took me and I started doing a little bit of writing. And that went on for about six months. And then short time after that that organization got merged with a larger organization based out of Cleveland called key ministry, and that's a large national special needs Christian ministry. And so I got taken on with them. And what was kind of the interesting challenge there was that now I was actually in a group with a lot of seasoned professionals, folks who, you know, were authors were national speakers, folks who have done just a lot of different stuff on their resumes. And so but I was thrown into that group. And then a few months later, I got invited to speak actually at their yearly conference in Cleveland. I got to be on dad's panel with a with a couple of other really good guys and got interviewed by a local radio personality there as part of that. And it just kind of snowballed from there. So I continued with the blogging and getting invited to other conferences. to speak, and just kind of share my story and do podcasts, obviously, that type of stuff. And really what my story is, is a story of being a special needs dad, but also, okay, you're a special needs father and your child has this disability, your child has a diagnosis, that does not define your child. And it also does not define you, it doesn't define you as a parent and what you can do in the ways you can have a relationship with your child and also give back to your community because men struggle, as I mentioned, in very specific ways, with how to get back and how to engage with their family even. And that's also one of the main reasons why the divorce rate is so high among our families, as well. And so there's, there's all kinds of little nuances to this. But at the end of the day, for me, it was okay, I have a place here and I have a purpose, what's the best way for me to do this? And I know there's a lot of men out there who are hurting, divorced or married, in terms of finding their role finding themselves and ultimately, just really making sure they've got a healthy relationship with their child.
Hmm, that's awesome. Where would you say like, you know, because a lot of dads egg, you said they kind of they feel alone. And they, they're not just not sure how to find other other people. And even if they do, they're uncomfortable with it, what would be a good first step in kind of reaching that that chasm, you know, and getting getting out there?
Well, the good news is, I think it's a couple of things. One, again, I think a big issue for men is they have an issue sharing their feelings, especially in a group setting, you know, they're not the kind that are, you know, like, I kind of joke, you put a bunch of moms together that don't know each other, and you put a bottle of wine on the table in 20 minutes for best friends, right? Men don't do that, you know. So the good news, though, is that and I think it's also kind of a weird benefit of the just coming out of the hole COVID crisis, that type of thing is that there are so many resources online and virtually. And I'm going to actually point here specifically to one organization that I've worked with very closely. And I've really had the privilege of working with very closely since kind of its inception, and it's an organization called Special fathers network. Now, if you're a special needs dad out there, this is the organization, the one organization that I would really push for you because first of all, it's just for dads. And it was actually started by a guy locally here in Chicago named David Hirsch. And David is not a special needs dad himself, but he's worked with fatherhood organizations for years, he just gives back in a variety of ways. He's a very successful businessman in the Chicago area, very well connected with pretty much everybody you name a name, he knows that kind of thing. And a few years ago, he pivoted to focusing his work with a special needs dad. So what the special father's network does is it provides a couple of things one provides a mentoring opportunity. So if you're a new dad out there, especially a young dad, and you're just have a diagnosis, and you don't know where to go, but you don't want to, you know, go meet a bunch of strange guys and sit around at a table and share this or that, you can get connected with one person who acts as a mentor. And many of these dads are seasoned dads, I'm a mentor myself, even you can get connected with a dad, maybe with a who has the same diagnosis or disability as your own child, someone in your own geographical area, but doesn't have to be, you can connect, you know, online, virtually you can, you know, if you choose to meet in person, that's your choice, too. But this is a wonderful, wonderful, you know, service that the organization provides. There's also a whole series of podcasts because everybody loves podcasts. I've been interviewed on there. But what's cool about it is that if you look at that list of podcasts, what you find out is that one, you find a lot of men, in exactly the same conversation, we're having guys who started out just not knowing what to do with any of this. And they either found their passions, starting nonprofits or other organizations to get back. And believe it or not, we've actually got some celebrities on there too, because there's a lot of local celebrities to the Chicago area, and names that people would know, nationally, that you wouldn't even believe are actually Special Needs parents or grandparents. And they are and they kind of also tell their story too. So those are always fun to listen to. But on top of that, we've also got a great YouTube channel, lots of resources on the YouTube channel, we actually do bi weekly, these kinds of like zoom like forums where there's a different topic each time. And you can go on the YouTube channel for special favors network, and you can just kind of scroll through to see what what calls you. And you can always jump in on one, you know, when the next one comes up and get kind of attached to the, to the email in the in the updates on that as well. But there's lots of great virtual resources. And that's one great example of that, you know, obviously Facebook has always got some some great, you know, forums and groups you can join in, like, I know, in Chicago, we've got a lot of those that are specific to your area or part of town. So there's ways to engage, even if you don't want to show up to something. But the good news is, is that it seems like this is getting traction and it especially if you're in like a larger metro area, you can probably find at least one or two groups that you can meet somebody in person, if that's what you really want to do. And I would actually encourage that because the biggest takeaway from all this is that you can't do this alone. And you know, however you connect with people great But you need at least one or two people that you can at least lean on when the times get really hard as as I as I know, personally, because as much as I gave back, you know, I definitely hit some unexpected bumps in the road such as divorce, where those those people, those guys were there for me and still are, you know, even you know, when the when the hard days come. So
I great advice there, John, thank you so much, you guys find out you know exactly what he said ways to engage. That's so important, you know, to stay connected in the community and to find the support system. Because the more the better, right? It's not fun to do this alone. And you don't have to do this alone.
John, how can people get in touch with you? And learn more about what you do?
Yeah, absolutely. So there's, there's a whole variety of ways to connect with me. The the main way I would say is my website. So my website is just John Fela geller.com. So just my my very, my very long, melodious sounding name, John Bella geller.com, you can see all the stuff that I'm involved with, you can watch videos, listen to other podcasts, me, etc. You know, and the thing that I would emphasize too, with the website is that you know, if you like some of my message based on you know, and I speak about a variety of things special needs related, if it's something of interest to you. And let's say you are also another podcaster out there, or maybe you have an organization that you know, you need a speaker for that type of thing, I'm more than happy to connect with you and be able to do that in a variety of ways. I'm all over on social media. So definitely connect with me on Facebook, I do have a regular, just plain old profile page on Facebook, you're welcome to connect with me there. Or I have a blog page as well. So it's Chad's Special Needs blog, on Facebook, John's Special Needs blog. And you can and what's nice about that is that more of my recent content gets out there quickly because my my webmaster is a friend and a wonderful person, but she's also a special needs mom herself. And so you know, things happen. So, but but do that I'm also on Instagram, che Fela Galor Twitter J felgo 74. So you just punch my name into the Google machine, as I like to say, and I'll you know, you'll find me,
we will definitely try to post all those as many links as possible in the show notes to make it easier for listeners to check out. I just want to say thank you again, for taking the time to be here today. Is there any words of wisdom or last bits of advice that you want to give a shout out to everyone listening today?
Yeah, so So one of the things that I'm kind of trademarking or hoping to trademark is, you know, when when I give advice like this, and kind of using my teacher brain to kind of, you know, figure that out in my head, I like to call it my one a one b conversation. So one and then a little a and then one little b for all of us who know how to, you know, make an outline and stuff. So the one A, for me, personally, is faith, right? My Christian faith is what has kind of sustained me through a lot of these trials. And you know, you may not be religious out there, you may not be Christian, whatever it is, that's fine. If you have a house of faith, I would say that's probably the first place you want to lean into, because you will find support and resources there, hopefully, that you know, are just Just a really quick step away for you, where you don't really have to go out of your way to engage too much those things should kind of already be provided for you. But one B is community, right. And so you may or may not have faith, but you definitely need community. And community is kind of a natural outreach of faith, ideally, you get in your situation. But my my bigger point here with that is you can't do this alone. You need people to walk with you and walk alongside you, even if it's one person and that's why I always say, you know, even if you're across the country, you know, and maybe see this and you're like, Well, I have nobody to talk to maybe I'll talk to this guy, you know, I've never said no to talking to anybody, regardless of kind of where they're at or pointing them in a direction or however I can help so you know this this is about not walking alone, you know, and again, for dads it's tough because of their pride and ego things get in there. But believe me when I tell you you need that you need other you need other men in your life you need other people in your life to kind of speak into you and again lean on you when the when the hard times come because they will.
Absolutely. Well thank you again so much for taking the time to be here today. Everyone go check out John fella geller.com. And we'll post all of that information in the show notes for you guys to delete to easier. Wonderful, thanks so much.
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