Deacon Mike Pool played a key role in Jon’s faith formation and helped him realize his gifts as a spokesperson for his mission. As the Spiritual Director for the Bloomington/Normal Teens Encounter Christ, Mike inspired Jon on a number of TEC teams. But it was his invitation to Jon to come down to the Jesus Coffeehouse one Sunday afternoon while Jon was preparing to make his confirmation that had a profound influence on our son.

While a group of adults prepared and served lunch to the dozens of families that came to take part in the offerings that the Jesus Coffeehouse provides, Jon quietly set up his guitar and amp on the small stage and began to play. Some of the songs were popular tunes that the audience could recognize, but mostly he just played melodies that came to him. Many in the crowd carried on with their socializing, but to one individual Jon’s music “spoke” to him. At the end of our stay, while we were cleaning up and Jon put away his guitar, a young teen approached him and talked to Jon about music. This young man, who lived without many of the advantages that our son enjoyed, found common ground in Jon’s music.

Deacon Pool informed us that this particular young man attended most Sunday luncheons at the Jesus Coffeehouse, but never interacted with anyone. This was the first time they witnessed him opening up to anyone who served there. Mike told Jon that he had a gift from God, and encouraged him to use his gift to reach those who have been closed off to God’s message. It was at that moment that Jon made the decision to tell others about his life with autism and form his first foundation, The Autism Awareness Foundation of Bloomington-Normal, later changed to Heroes Embracing Autistic Lives.

For planting the gift of faith in Jon that all things are possible, and for giving him the courage to discuss the need in our community for autism acceptance the H.E.A.L. Foundation wishes to recognize Deacon Mike Pool with our Hero Award.