Miracle in the Desert

Joe and Jennifer Petriell

Imagine going from a family of four to fourteen overnight! For Joe and Jennifer Petrielli, that’s what happened three years ago. As you would imagine, life for the Petrielli “family” would never be the same.

In 2010, life changed the first time for them when Joe closed the doors on his once thriving home construction business. “I rode the building boom up and rode it all the way back down” Joe said. “We had a wonderful lifestyle… a big beautiful home and two healthy boys. In the span of two years, we lost it all and were forced to move in with my parents” stated Jennifer. Joe took an entry level job with Comcast and contemplated what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. When an opportunity to move to Arizona with Comcast presented itself, they saw it as a sign to get a fresh start in a new state. “Illinois was the only place either one of us had ever lived, but my mom had a winter place in Gilberts, Arizona that we could live in while we figured things out.” What they had no idea about when they moved was that their lives were about to change even more drastically over the next year over the previous one. “The one thing I knew for sure was I wanted to give back with my life in ways I never was able to when I was busy building my business” Joe said. “We prayed a lot and had faith God would open a door for us” said Jennifer.

That door came in the form of Sunshine Acres, an alternative home for children whose own homes are not stable environments. Founded in 1954 as a faith-based, privately funded foster home, Sunshine Acres has now supported over 1,600 kids. They come for as little as one year, but the children are all welcome to stay as long as their unique situation requires. There is even a post high school transitional program that affords every kid the opportunity to make it on their own. While they are at Sunshine Acres each child is placed into a blended family consisting of 10 same sex siblings, and two surrogate house parents. Five weeks after feeling led to serve at Sunshine Acres, Joe and Jennifer inherited a blended family of 10 boys ages 4 to 17.

What has ensued for the Petriellis over the next three years is fitting for Sunshine Acres tagline, Miracle in the Dessert. “We’ve never worked this hard in our lives! These kids come from broken homes, with absentee parents, jailed parents, drug addicted parents, you name it. They rebel at authority in general as a defense mechanism and it takes a ton of love to break the self-destructive habit’s they have formed” stated Jennifer.

However, for all the thankless work that’s required to raise any kids, let alone a dozen of them at a time, one thing makes everything worth it. “When a boy who comes into your world as a stranger, and after months or sometimes years, looks you in the eyes for the first time and says “I love you Mom or Dad” everything you went through to get to that point pales in significance.” state Joe and Jennifer.

Today, life at Sunshine Acres for the Petriells couldn’t be more hectic and rewarding. Over three years they’ve raised and said goodbye to a total of 26 kids. Recently though, two of the boys came back on a Friday night. “They just were in town and dropped by for an unexpected visit. They slept in the guest bedroom and hung out the next day getting to know some of the new boys in the home” stated Jennifer.

Both Joe and Jennifer say they could never have imagined a life like they are living today. Even more telling though, they can’t imagine living a life any other way!

To see the pond Aquascape built for the Petriells and all the kids of Sunshine Acres tune into a season of the Aquascape Pond Squad this April!