Kevin Donnelly, Angela Phang, Phyllis Fogel and Denise Elia (far right) work together to compose a song about love, grace and mercy during a retreat organized by AIM ministry of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Boca Raton. The ministry is celebrating 40 years of serving those with physical disabilities. (PHOTO BY LINDA REEVES-FC)

AIM Retreat ministry marks 40 years

Delray Beach  |  Polly Chaisson remembers the activities, music and talks of the first Achieve, Inspire, Motivate (AIM) retreat she attended decades ago. Most of all, she recalls how her faith was boosted and how she was inspired to grow in holiness.  

“I was blown away,” said Chaisson, a parishioner of St. Sebastian Parish in Sebastian. “The people, the comradery, the words I heard—it was fantastic. It opened me up spiritually, and I was inspired and wanted to do something for someone.”

The AIM Retreat is an outreach ministry of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Boca Raton dedicated to providing Catholic weekend retreats and one-on-one assistance for individuals with physical disabilities. The ministry’s retreats are open to people of all parishes of the diocese and beyond, and people of all faiths and backgrounds. 

Chaisson also happens to be blind. She and her guide dog Rita “wouldn’t miss the AIM retreat for anything,” which is scheduled for Oct. 25-27 at the Duncan Conference Center in Delray Beach. The retreat will feature a full agenda of activities and celebrations marking AIM’s 40th anniversary. 

A team of core volunteers plan and execute the weekend programs, and volunteer assistants’ partner with participants to assist with their needs, so they can enjoy the retreat’s spiritual and social activities. “The organizers of the retreat are amazing,” Chaisson said. “They saw a need in the community 40 years ago and fulfilled that need.”

“I have been an AIM Retreat volunteer since 1994. This is my silver anniversary,” said Margarita Castellon, a parishioner of St. Joan of Arc Parish and current AIM Retreat ministry leader. Castellon said her first AIM Retreat was life changing and she was hooked. “I learned to see and understand that individuals with disabilities are not disabled. The word disabled negates abilities. They are people with various and many abilities,” she said.  

St. Joan of Arc parishioners Harriet and Bernie Molinski and the late Eileen Kenney, who died earlier this year, founded the AIM Retreat. The ministry idea was inspired by the late Kathy Molinski, the Molinski’s adopted daughter who lived with Huntington’s disease, a hereditary and progressive brain disorder. 

“We didn’t think AIM would still be around after 40 years,” Harriet said. “I am so glad we did it when we were young. The first AIM Retreat was such a success. There were 15 participants and 23 volunteers. We were going through hard times with our daughter and it was a good retreat for all of us.”  

Over the past 40 years, the retreat has touched the hearts and souls of so many who have had the opportunity to find the Lord in a safe and loving environment through the AIM Retreat.  

Nigel Richards, a parishioner of Ascension Parish in Boca Raton and is visually impaired, remembers his first AIM Retreat in 1984. “It was very spiritual and very Christ-centered,” recalled Richards. “Everybody there was open to everyone else. There was no sense of rivalry or competition. We were all there to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”  

The theme of this year’s retreat is “Living the Kingdom of God: Being God’s Presence in the World Today.” Msgr. Stephen Bosso, long-time dedicated AIM Retreat volunteer and professor of sacred scripture at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, is serving as spiritual leader. He is presenting four talks and will be the main celebrant and homilist at two Masses that weekend. 

Castellon is excited about the retreat with Msgr. Bosso, who is known in the faith community as an excellent speaker and teacher. “The theme is special in that it will help us understand how even our simple acts can manifest God’s presence to those around us,” said Castellon about the message surely to inspire and motivate.