During the pandemic, Johanna Benthal’s family came up with a way to help disabled people on the North Fork when they formed the nonprofit Johanna’s Hope.
“It really started with the pandemic, we started with raising chickens to keep Johanna busy,” said Eileen Benthal, Johanna’s mother and founder of the organization. “And, gradually, I started to see how it was a way that she could start to connect to the community, even in the midst of all the shutdowns.”
Johanna Benthal, 26, was born with cerebral cavernous malformation, a rare neurological disease that causes bleeding and pressure in her brain. According to the organization’s website, her first brain surgery was at three months old and she has had over 100 surgeries in 25 years. Despite all the challenges and accompanying disabilities she has faced, she is a gifted young woman who expresses herself through art.
On Friday evening the organization held its first annual FUNdraiser on Jo’s Farm, the family’s farm in Riverhead. The evening featured a tour of Jo’s farm and an opportunity to interact with the farm life on the property, which includes goats, chickens and bees. There was also dinner and drinks and a honey harvesting demonstration and tasting by master beekeeper from Promise Land Apiaries Chris Kelly.
North Fork Doughnut Company, North Fork Brewery, Kait’s Angels, A Book Place in Riverhead, One for All Gifts in Southold and many others local restaurants and businesses, local authors and nonprofit organizations donated prizes for raffles.
In a phone interview on Monday afternoon, Ms. Benthal said they are still calculating the amount of money raised from the fundraiser and online donations. The money raised will go toward making the farm more accessible and supporting Arts on Jo’s farm, biweekly workshops that provide people with disabilities with an opportunity to connect with nature and each other through art.
“It really was an overwhelming response, which will be very helpful to making the adjustments that we need to make here and then to focus in more on the arts on jo’s farm program, Ms. Benthal said. “I really do want to invite local artists in be able to do a combination of hiring them and volunteering, so I think all of that will really help us to carefully expand the program.”
According to Ms. Benthal, around 20 people attend the workshops and the ages ranged from people in their early 20s to mid-50s.
Johanna’s artwork was on display in “Jo’s Cottage,” a gallery of her artwork on the farm and the artwork of workshop participants was also on display throughout the farm on Friday evening.
Most recently, Johanna’s Hope partnered with Hallockville Museum Farm to provide accessible opportunities for visitors to learn about beekeeping. Participants worked together and alongside Hallockville beekeepers to paint and construct a colorful pallet fence around Hallockville’s bee education yard on Jo’s farm to support outreach to the community, according to a press release from Johanna’s Hope.
Ms. Benthal thanks the community for their “overwhelming support” for their family and the organization.
“What has happened here has been such a blessing to our lives to see,” Ms. Benthal said. “I think one of the lessons that we learned in the pandemic, that small is beautiful. And so you began with just a few people coming, you know, a few young adults and it’s grown into such a community here that looks out for each other.”
For more information or to donate, visit johannashope.org.