Every Thursday night at Rejoice Lutheran Church in Omaha, more than 150 adults with special needs and disabilities gather with volunteers to eat, play games, pray and make friends through a program called Spirit Matters.

Don and Jona Simonson have been volunteering with Spirit Matters since it first became a ministry at Rejoice 18 years ago. Only about a dozen people were coming then.

Don enjoys the program because the participants “become friends with each other,” he said. “If you don’t feel God in that room, there’s something wrong.”

Don and Jona said they have always leaned on their faith, and it was no different five years ago when they lost their 49-year-old daughter, Chantell Simonson, to breast cancer. They now designate donations to Goodfellows, The World-Herald’s charity, to her memory.

“She was a funny girl,” Jona said. “We really miss her during the holidays.”

Chantell would come to the house early on Christmas with her Zinfandel or “cheap white gin” and talk with Jona as she made the Christmas meal.

The first year after Chantell died, the family bought a bottle of the same gin in her memory, but it was so bad that “nobody could drink it,” Jona said, giggling.

So they started the Goodfellows tradition. They had been donating to the charity before Chantell died, and they felt it was a good way to remember her.

The couple likes that Goodfellows “helps so many different people,” and that the World-Herald doesn’t charge any administrative fees for the donations.

“The cancer was hard,” Jona said. “But a lot of people have gone through it, the same as us.”

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