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Creating faith through Fun Life

Couple brings ministry to area's special needs kids and adults.

Posted: April 6, 2008 3:10 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Four years ago, John and Nancy Pantellas realized the Santa Clarita Valley was home to a population of youngsters with disabilities who didn't have a place to learn about the Christian faith.

Nor did these kids have a way to meet others and have fun during their teen years.

That realization led to the formation of Santa Clarita's chapter of Fun Life, which is part of Young Life, an international nondenominational Christian ministry that reaches out to adolescents.

Young Life has been part of the Santa Clarita Valley since 1982.

The first Fun Life meeting was held in a home garage with four adolescents.

Now the club has grown to include 80 kids with special needs, including both physical and mental disabilities.

Recently, Fun Life, which is formally known as Young Life Capernaum, was divided into two branches for the junior high and high schoolers.

While the junior high kids and high school students will meet individually, one Friday a month is dedicated to bringing all 80 youngsters together to interact and learn about the Christian faith.

'Create a place'
The meetings are structured to include dinner, Christian songs, games and mixers to learn about Christianity while having fun.

"We wanted to create a place," said John Pantellas, who oversees Fun Life with wife Nancy. "They could actually have friends and belong.

They could actually have the freedom to express themselves for who they are and not be judged. And not have to try and be somebody else."

Additionally, the Pantellas hope to give the 80 members a chance to just have fun through monthly dances and game nights.

"Teens are teens," Nancy Pantellas said. "They want to hang out with friends. They want to be unconditionally accepted. They want to belong. They want to be loved."

Along with creating relationships, Fun Life strives to give youngsters who are mentally and physically disabled a way to build life skills.

Anna Bettencourt-Rodil's son, Cesar Loyola, has been involved with Fun Life since its beginnings.
"It's been a wonderful experience for my son," said Bettencourt-Rodil, a functional academics teacher for Rancho Pico Junior High School.

"Fun Life has created an avenue for him to work on social skills and relationships."

Bettencourt-Rodil, a Valencia resident, also credits Fun Life for helping her son transition into the work world with a boost of self-confidence.

"Now he's working at Target and taking the city bus."

The organization also helps Bettencourt-Rodil meet with other parents.

"I can connect with families," she said, noting her role as a teacher also gives her a way to see her own students in a social setting.

While Fun Life is designed to give youngsters an opportunity for fun, the dozens of adult volunteers enjoy being part of the club, too.

Randy Lusk and his wife, Pat, of Valencia started volunteering with Fun Life when it began.

Since his daughter was already part of another Young Life club, he figured it could be a way for him to get involved with helping youth learn.

"They do lots of things," he said, noting the club gives youth something they can look forward to outside of school.

Parents get involved
Similarly, Paula Shumard volunteers for Fun Life with her husband, Craig.

"It truly is fun for the kids," said Shumard, a Valencia resident.

She sees Fun Life as a way for parents to network and share their concerns and own stories with others.

"Now Fun Life is part of my life," she said. "I can't even imagine life without Fun Life now."

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