English novelist Jane Howard said, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” I believe a tribe is one of the most important pieces to a successful family, especially a family with members who have special needs. Loving a person with special needs is an exhausting, beautiful, worrisome, joyful journey. One that families do not have to run alone. As a matter of fact, there are thousands of people who would like to run that journey with you.

Timothy Boyle is the founder of a group called I Run 4. Over three years ago, Tim posted on Facebook about an upcoming 5K run, along with a meme that said, “I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can’t run, what they would give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them.” His friend who has Down Syndrome and hip dysplasia commented, “You can run for me anytime, Tim!” That was the beginning of a beautiful group that we are happy to claim as part of our tribe. Runners and those who want to be matched with a runner sign up on his website; they are then matched together and a beautiful friendship begins. So far, I Run 4 has helped create 15,000 beautiful friendship.

I asked Tim what he feels like the benefit is for those who run and those who are buddies. He said, “Our buddies get the benefit of knowing there is someone out there, outside the family, who really truly cares. Inclusion wins. The runners have something other than themselves to think about on their runs.”

One of my family’s favorite things about the I Run 4 community is how positive and uplifting the group is. I asked Tim why he thinks this group creates such a positive vibe. He responded, “Our community thrives because it is no longer about ourselves. While you would think it’s opposite attractions, it’s really about taking ourselves out of the equation to do something nice for one another. It thrives because it gives you a purpose and a warm fuzzy to do something for another.”

Runners and buddies can sign up for one of four different groups facilitated by I Run 4. Tim explained, “We have our main group which benefits children and adults with special needs, our remembrance group for those who have passed away, our siblings group because they don’t get as much attention in the family dynamic due to the needs of the brother or sister with special needs, and our wounded veteran group because they have served us well, now it’s our turn.”

Our son was matched several months ago with an incredible athlete in Bristol, England. She has quickly become one of our favorite Facebook friends and updates us several times a week with how her training is going and what upcoming races she has planned. Our son regularly gets surprises in the mail, and he now has a growing collection of trophies, medals, and treasures from England. I don’t think  we would have ever met Becky on our own, but with the strong friendship that has blossomed, we feel so grateful and blessed to have I Run 4 match us together.

I asked Tim what encouragement he would give to families who are on the fence about signing up to be matched. I loved his answer: “For those on the fence I say the worst that’s going to happen is they gain a new friend. You aren’t out any money because we are totally free. Let someone else love your child!”

Letting someone else love your child is the best way to grow your tribe.