Joyful Together® Highlights: A Year of Living Joyfully

Joyful Together: Celebrating a Joyful Year!

During the past year, Joyful Together® has grown and thrived. This model developed by OhioGuidestone’s Institute of Family & Community Impact (IFCI) infuses play and joy into everyday moments. Despite the struggles of 2020 and 2021, we have seen families and caregivers embrace joy with their children, in ways both new and old. Living joyfully in a time of uncertainty and stress not only helps get us through the tough times. It also helps build a brighter future.

Read below to find out some of the ways that Joyful Together® has made a path toward that future.

What Is Joyful Together®?

Above all, Joyful Together® is founded on the simple idea that care + play = joy. In the Joyful model, caregivers infuse play into everyday moments, helping to build childhood resiliency and lower parent stress. Thus, play and joy are key to preventing and combatting the adverse effects of toxic stress and trauma.

Joyful Together® is evidence-based, parent-implemented, and play-centered, created with and for families with young children. It’s simple and effective, specifically designed to help kids, their caregivers, and their communities thrive.

Joy Can Be Experienced Anywhere, Anytime!

The best part about Joyful Together® is that it can be used in any situation where an adult is providing care or services to a child. We’ve adapted the basic model for all kinds of homes, daycares and early learning centers, elementary schools, and more.

Read more below about where and how we are expanding Joyful Together® throughout our communities, our state, and beyond!

Happy child

Now an Evidence-Based Practice!

The Ohio Children’s Trust Fund (OCTF), Ohio’s Prevent Child Abuse America Chapter, recently announced Joyful Together® as an evidence-based practice.

Ohio Children’s Trust Fund: Ohio’s Prevent Child Abuse America Chapter

Joyful Together® ECE Pilot: Innovation and Successful Outcomes

In partnership with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and with funding from the Hemera Foundation, IFCI recently completed a Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) Joyful Together® pilot project that equipped early childhood education (ECE) professionals in Cuyahoga County with the tools to improve the quantity and quality of joyful interactions with young children in their care.

This pilot study demonstrated success in every outcome we sought to effect, including:

  • Lower teacher stress;
  • Increased teacher applied understanding of the role of play and relationships in early childhood;
  • And increased childhood protective factors.

The IFCI team soon will present on some of our experiences from this Joyful Together® ECE pilot project at an FOI Fast-Cycle Iteration Workshop, led by the Center on the Developing Child.

Frontiers of Innovation

And More Joyful Together® ECE to Come!

We are excited to announce that we have received new funding to extend Joyful Together® ECE over the next three years to six more centers, thanks to funding from the Joyce M. Stielau & Herbert W. Stielau Foundation.

National and Local Recognition

Society for Prevention Research

Within the last year, Joyful Together® was featured at national conferences for the Society for Prevention Research and the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs.

The model and its research outcomes to date also were presented to the Ohio Children’s Behavioral Health Prevention Network Stakeholder Group earlier this year.

Furthermore, we are developing a partnership with the Ohio Department of Health to train home visiting professionals in the Joyful Together® model. Read more below!

New Products!

Joyful Together book for parents: Using Everyday Moments to Build a Loving Relationships with Your Child

We recently published two new Joyful Together® books: one for parents, and one for professionals in early childhood education (ECE).

Joyful Together: Using Everyday Moments to Build a Loving Relationship with Your Child helps guide parents through Joyful Together® activities, as well as background on why joy and play are vital for child brain development.

Meanwhile, our ECE version of the Joyful Together® manual provides much-needed context for implementing the Joyful model in early learning centers, giving tools for ECE professionals to use in their work with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

All our products are available in our online shop.

Happy young child with dad

What’s Next for Joyful Together®?

Joyful Together® now is embedded into our suite of innovations for parents, children, and families, including new interventions for parental depression during the perinatal period.

Because Joyful Together® incorporates everyday life into its model, it helps foster joy in ways that are culturally responsive, focused on social and concrete supports, and cognizant of the realities of economic hardship, racism, discrimination, and marginalization experienced by many of the families we work with.

While Joyful Together® alone cannot solve these problems, it can help give parents of young children a renewed sense of playfulness and joy and reduce some of the worst effects of toxic stress.

Map of Ohio with Lorain, Medina, Summit, and Wayne counties highlighted

Joyful Together® and OCTF: Phase 2!

Our research team recently completed another study phase of Joyful Together®, and now is recruiting for the next phase! Families in Lorain, Medina, Summit, or Wayne County with children between 3 months and 10 years old are eligible to participate.

This study is generously funded by the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund (OCTF), as was the previous phase in Lorain, Medina, and Summit counties.

Participants can sign up online by visiting

Help Me Grow™ Professionals Training

Beginning this fall, we are partnering with the Ohio Department of Health to train Help Me Grow™ home visiting professionals in the Joyful Together® model.

This opportunity will help strengthen and build relational health throughout the state, as well as offer more evidence for the effectiveness of Joyful Together® in a diversity of contexts.

For more information, email us at

Expanding Joy in ECE Centers

After completing our first study of Joyful Together® in early childhood education (ECE) centers, we soon will be expanding this project into six more sites.

This expanded project has been made possible thanks to generous funding from the Joyce M. Stielau & Herbert W. Stielau Foundation.

We also are working to make our new Joyful Together® ECE manual available to more professionals throughout Ohio!

Parent Voices: Reclaiming Joy

We are developing a new Joyful Together® paradigm: since Joyful Together® is implemented by caregivers, what do parents experience and feel as they try to infuse joy into their relationships with their children while facing the trials of daily life?

Our next major Joyful Together® project is aimed at uncovering the stories of these parents and families, centering and giving a platform to their voices. As a community-based research center — and part of a community-based behavioral health agency — we know that what we build for the communities we serve must also be by those communities themselves.

This project will help shed necessary light on how and where the Joyful Together® model works in the real lives of parents and children.

Child and caregiver laughing during Joyful Together play

The Joyful Together® Video Game

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Joyful Together® Video Game Contest earlier this year! As part of this special event, OhioGuidestone staff members recorded themselves playing a Joyful Together® activity with their child, then shared the video with our team. Everyone who played was entered in a random drawing for a $25 gift card!

Didn’t get a chance to play? No worries, because we still need more videos! To learn more, OhioGuidestone staff can contact our team at

These videos are vital for training professionals in the Joyful Together® model. Come help us build the next great generation of behavioral health and social services professionals!

Thank you!

Thank you to our generous funders:

Ohio Children’s Trust Fund

Center on the Developing Child

Hemera Foundation

Ohio Department of Health

The Joyce M. Stielau & Herbert W. Stielau Foundation

As well as Joyful Together®’s many supporters, including:

Alison Patrick and the Ohio Health Program

Michael Ingram and staff at the Bedford Heights Childcare and Nursery

Patti Jelinek and staff at the Cleveland Childcare Center

Sharon Thompson, Renata Turner, Sonya Dean, and Step Forward staff

Thank you also to the many OhioGuidestone staff members (both past and present) who have made Joyful Together® a thriving and growing success!

Staff, Therapists, & Supervisors

  • Zalika Brown
  • Leslie Bruno
  • Lynne Cardilino
  • Melissa Carter
  • Kris Cipolla
  • Regina Coon
  • Heidi Corso
  • Lindsey DeMarco
  • Kim Dowdley
  • Rachel Ebersole
  • Erica Eppler
  • Corey Fling
  • Lisa Friend
  • Catherine Gasper
  • Malissa Gettis
  • Georgie Gray
  • Kirsten Handler
  • Margaret Hannon
  • Ronda Hartman
  • Rob Heidl
  • Maladean Hudson
  • Donna Jezewski
  • Wendy Kacmarcik
  • Mindy Kaminski
  • Ashley Katsaros
  • Kylie Leicht
  • Trisha McRae
  • Monica Mlinac
  • Rebecca Nappi
  • Anastasia Phillips
  • Christi Powers
  • Kelly Repas
  • Randy Reposa
  • Brittany Reynolds
  • Katherine Rivera
  • Marisa Rodgers
  • Melissa Romain
  • Kristina Ryan
  • Jamie Saunt
  • Kaylin Schaefer
  • Kristal Simmons-Johnson
  • Shiloh Spence
  • Catherine Tyler
  • Amanda Van Buren
  • Jeneane Vaughn
  • Kelsey Watson
  • Nicole West
  • Courtney Yergin

Department Teams

  • Grant Writing Teams (Advancement & Government Contracts)
  • Communications & Marketing
  • Finance
  • IT

Special thanks to past research assistants and interns!

  • Justine Bernacet
  • Chanelle Childers
  • Ashley Cunningham
  • Isabella Hu
  • Ryan Muskin
  • Kayla Paul
  • Anastasia Rose

The Joyful Together® Team

  • Dr. Ben Kearney
  • Holli Ritzenthaler
  • Brittany Pope
  • Catherine Gaspar
  • Kristina Ryan
  • Jamie Saunt
  • Nina Khawam
  • Taylor Mason
  • Kristen Mitzel

  • Institute of Family and Community Impact


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