Born and raised in Gainesville, Georgia, Ben and I met in high school. It was a “love at first sight” moment. We went our separate ways after high school, but as fate would have it (or thanks to my sister), we reconnected and married in May 2013. The early years of our marriage were spent traveling and working hard in our businesses, as we are both local entrepreneurs. In 2018, we were thrilled to welcome our first child, Thomas James. A few years later, just after Thomas turned 2, we found out we were expecting again. We were so excited — what a precious gift!
Pregnancy with baby #2 started off like a typical first trimester — all day sickness and constant heartburn. During a routine appointment at 26 weeks pregnant, our doctors discovered abnormalities on our baby’s brain. The next 14 weeks of pregnancy were filled with weekly tests, ultrasounds, and specialist appointments.
Ben and I wanted to be surprised by the gender of our baby. However, when we learned that there were medical complications with baby #2, we decided that we needed to find out the gender, so we could specifically pray for him or her by name.
We had tossed around some ideas for names but had not settled on anything yet. After one of our weekly specialist appointments, we had the nurse write the gender of our baby in an envelope. As we were getting in the car, we both decided that we just couldn’t wait until we got home — we had to know right away! Ben opened the envelope, and we both wept with joy at the news of a little girl. On the way home, Ben mentioned the name “Hope.” We agreed that it was the perfect fit. In that moment, we decided to name our little girl Hope Elizabeth.
On November 6th, 2020, we welcomed Hope into the world, and she was immediately admitted to the NICU. The day after her birth, she was transferred to the CHOA NICU where we stayed overnight for some special testing and exams that could not be performed in Gainesville. We were transferred back to the Gainesville NICU and stayed for six additional days before being released to go home.
We settled into our new “normal” which was much different than the newborn phase we had experienced with Thomas. Hope started early intervention therapy at 9 weeks old while Ben and I learned how to administer medicine around the clock. Each week, Hope completed anywhere from 2-6 early intervention therapy sessions. She worked hard to learn things that came so naturally to our first born, such as eating, sitting, crawling, and eventually walking.
Early on in our journey, multiple doctors made comments and predictions about Hope’s abilities. Some doctors expressed a lot of optimism about Hope’s abilities. Others told us, she may not be able to eat orally, talk, walk, see, or hear.
Several months after she was born, Hope was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome called Microthalmia with Linear Skin Defects Syndrome (MLS syndrome). We learned MLS syndrome has less than 300 known cases in the world and that it is lethal in males. What a sign of God’s faithfulness: He gifted us with a girl who can live!
One afternoon, after receiving some difficult news at an appointment with Hope, I went to the Wauka Mountain track to take out my frustrations with a long run. I’ve always used running to blow off steam and have been running on this track for 20 years. Until this day, I had never paid attention to the playground. But after leaving an appointment when a doctor had predicted that my child may not walk, I started to see the playground, and the world, through a different lens. Both of my kids will attend elementary school at Wauka Mountain, but there was a chance that they would not be able to play on the same playground together. It broke my heart. At that moment, I knew I had to do something. I knew that all kids with all abilities deserved the chance to play together!
Building our first inclusive playground is just the beginning — we have dreams of building many more! At the end of the day, our core belief is that all kids of all abilities deserve the opportunity to play together!
And just like that — Hope For Hall was born! Inspired to make a positive change in our community, we started learning about inclusive playgrounds and connected with a local company that designs, builds and installs them. We partnered with friends, old and new, recruited family members, and sought out advocates for the disabled community who believed in our mission. We met with public school administration and presented our inclusive playground design. Thanks to Hall County Administration’s approval, Hope for Hall is fundraising and building Hall County’s first inclusive playground at one of their 20 elementary schools.