Last year, I celebrated five years as Family Hope Foundation’s Executive Director. But I’ve been linked to the organization since it was just a dream – a spark yet to be ignited. That was over 14 years ago!
As a founding board member turned Executive Director, I’ve always held back from sharing anything personal. I’ve been afraid to give the impression that “It’s about me.” It’s never been. Our mission was always about investing in others.
One phone call changed everything.
Yesterday I spoke to a mother whose child received a scholarship. A few minutes into our conversation, her voice cracked. She was overwhelmed by gratitude. Her family had a heavy load, and this opportunity was the first HOPE she had felt in a long time.
I stewed about that conversation. It stirred up 18 years of memories. I felt connected to that mother because I’d worn her shoes. On some level, I can identify with all our families. At that moment, I thought again about peeling back a layer. Maybe it’s ok to share – to let our community get to know the person behind the signature.
My family has a story, and HOPE is at its foundation.
Our youngest, Aidan, was born on January 10, 2005, with the diagnosis of Trisomy 21, better known as Down syndrome. He took our breath away. He was beautiful, and he was perfect.
My heart burst with love, but it was also overwhelmed with uncertainty.
- Uncertainty about health – Aidan had two open heart surgeries before he was five.
- Uncertainty about development – when would he roll over, smile, crawl, walk, and could he learn to talk?
- Uncertainty about Aidan’s future – what would school look like, would he make friends, where would he live when we were no longer around?
- Uncertainty about parenting – we knew so little.
Could we do this?
There was just so much uncertainty, and it felt very unsettling.
Our first dose of HOPE came before we left the hospital – family, and friends were chomping at the bit to see our new little boy. They were embracing the person, Aidan Paul Eppard, and not just a baby with a diagnosis.
HOPE came from medical professionals at Holland Hospital, Spectrum, and the University of Michigan. We learned a lot from the nurses and doctors, some of the first to encourage us not to put a ceiling on his abilities.
HOPE came from therapists at Early On. They encouraged us to seek private therapy to build on Aidan’s strengths. We wanted him to shine! Like SO many families, we quickly discovered therapy was expensive, and our insurance didn’t cover anything.
Aidan’s health was fragile and required weekly doctor’s appointments. I had to shift to part-time to manage his care. We felt desperate to get Aidan started in therapy. We did the math. We didn’t know how we could make it. We only knew we were determined, even if it took everything we had.
But then there was a game-changer.
HOPE came in the form of LOVE – we started receiving checks from my parents. We pushed back. My parents pushed back harder, insisting the money was not for us. The money was an investment in their grandson’s future.
This was before a resource like Family Hope Foundation existed. Boy, would it have felt good to plug into an organization rooted in HOPE.
It feels good to have built Family Hope Foundation alongside a team of dedicated people. Our mission plays a critical role in the disability community, and each year we’re able to help more families. 14 years in, I’m still fiercely passionate about our mission because I understand what it feels like to NEED and find HOPE. It’s everything.
Fast forward to today. Aidan is a junior at West Ottawa High School – an upperclassman! He sings in the men’s choir and competes on the swim team. He continues to amaze us, and we have HOPE that the best is yet to come. Just like my parents invested in Aidan, Family Hope Foundation is here to invest in families who want their children to shine. Families are not alone. We’re a resource that’s here to stay!