10 Families Gifted in 2022
Wow! They say time flies by when you’re having fun; based on that, 2022 was a fun-filled year for SGF. That being said, if you have been following our journey then you know that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. We encounter countless heartbreaking stories throughout our work. Our hearts have led us to be an advocate for these families, and it is with love and care that we share their stories with our communities. YOU, the SGF community, make this mission possible! Thanks to your generous and unwavering support, SGF welcomed TEN new precious families as Gifted Families in 2022! We are blessed to share their stories with you all.
Let’s Meet the 10 Families Gifted in 2022
Gift: Family trip to Beech Mountain, NC
Given: February 2022
Location: Floyd County
We first met the Fountain family at our first annual Spring in the Valley Festival in 2021. Then in 2022, our second annual SIV event made it possible to gift this sweet family. Russell and his sister, Annabelle, started homeschooling shortly after COVID caused a pandemic. Russell’s parents, Stephanie and Joseph, were concerned about his chronic lung disease and wanted to minimize exposure. In addition to lung disease, Russell has been diagnosed with a hole and extra vein in his heart, grade 3 intraventricular brain hemorrhage at birth, necrotizing enterocolitis, partial complex epilepsy, cerebral palsy, global development delay, SCADD, and muscle fiber atrophy. Life for the Fountain family has been challenging to say the least.
Being cooped up in the house throughout quarantine began to take a toll on the family, and they desperately needed a vacation. The kids were missing social interaction, in addition to their desire for a new scenery. Stephanie and Joseph asked the kids to name something they have always wanted to do, and they both said they wanted to throw snowballs and make as many snowmen as they could. Mission snow was in effect.
Our friends and supporters at Rome Automax helped make this gifting possible by donating a rental car for the family to drive to Beech Mountain, NC. They enjoyed a week stay in a cabin, went snow-tubing, experienced an alpaca farm tour, and so much more! The kids were able to experience way more snow than anticipated and had the time of their lives.
Gift: Basketball goal, rental car (donated by Automax of Rome) for family trip at Thanksgiving, and Freedom Concepts Semi-Recumbent Trike
Given: July 2022
Location: Whitfield County
You’ll notice that SGF emphasizes the importance of supporting the WHOLE family, and not only the child(ren). Lavell’s gifting was a perfect example of this. Lavell’s mom, Sara, told SGF that her daughter, Lyric, wanted to be a professional basketball player one day for the WNBA. To help make her dreams come true, SGF gifted her with a basketball goal so she could practice her skills. We hope she remembers us when she goes pro!
Lavell was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome when he was 2 months old. In the early stages of life, he was a poor feeder with low muscle tone. However, now he has an uncontrollable hunger that has also caused behavior issues. At 6 months old, he was also diagnosed with infantile scoliosis and endures surgical procedures every 6 months. He used to have an adaptive bicycle but had grown out of it. So, Sara asked for a new specialty bicycle so he can get some exercise, while also enjoying the outdoors and riding with other kids. Freedom Concepts helped Lavell’s mom to design an adaptive tricycle tailored to Lavell’s needs.
The other heart-warming part of this gifting was a family trip to visit Sara’s dad up north. With her father’s declining health, they wanted to spend time and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner as a family. Once again, our generous friends at Rome Automax assisted in this gifting by donating a rental car for the trip. We are so thankful to everyone who helped make this gifting possible. Because of the SGF community, Lavell’s family made special family memories they will cherish for a lifetime.
Gift: Family trip to Disney
Given: August 2022
Location: Floyd County
We’ve all heard of and/or experienced a mother’s intuition. John Wyatt’s mother, Jaclyn, felt this when he was 3 months old and crying uncontrollably. Previously, it had been chalked up as colic and acid reflux, but she felt in her heart that the problem was way bigger than that. His left eye then began to swell, and within a week was almost bulging out of his head. John Wyatt was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer called retinoblastoma. His retina had completely detached, and he had tumors in both eyes which left him blind in his left eye.
They arrived at St. Jude, where he had his left eye removed. He then received 6 rounds of systemic chemotherapy, laser treatment, cryotherapy, and direct shots of chemo to his right eye. During treatment, the oncologist noticed he wasn’t reaching typical milestones. A few months later, they discovered John Wyatt had a rare genetic disorder called 13Q deletion. This means he is missing part of his 13th chromosome which they believe is what caused his cancer; this also causes developmental delays. In addition, he is missing the RB1 gene that fights cancer. Unfortunately, there is hardly any studies or tests on children with 13Q deletion since it is so rare. The doctors told his parents that only time and John Wyatt will tell us the kind of life he will live, and with no cure they would have to rely on therapy.
Even with all of his challenges, his mother describes him as the happiest and most joyful child. His parents call him their sunshine because he radiates. John Wyatt also loves music, so Disney movies helped them get through their hospital stays. Although he is not able to fully communicate yet, music gives him an outlet and means of communicating on his level. Given his love for music and Disney, the Smith family’s gift request was a trip to Disney. This trip will take place in the beginning of 2023, and we are so excited for the memories they will make! Fun fact: Jaclyn used to be Alice from Alice in Wonderland at Disney World.
Gift: Financial assistance for music therapy sessions
Given: November 2022
Location: Cobb County
Life is full of the unexpected. Viyan’s mother, Diti, said they were hit with a very unexpected moment in September 2015 when Viyan was born. They were so excited about his arrival, yet they had no idea what would soon follow. Viyan was born with bilateral hearing loss and trisomy 21 down syndrome. His parents knew the combination of these two diagnoses would have limitations on his abilities to learn and grow.
Although it was difficult to process, they immediately started looking into interventions and support systems to help plan for his future. After a consultation with CHOA, they received news that Viyan could be implanted with a bilateral cochlear implant system that would allow him to hear again. He received the implant in late 2016, and his parent’s cried tears of joy the first time he responded to sound.
Given this was only half of the solution, they knew their struggle was not over. He was enrolled in specialized speech therapy, along with physical and occupational therapies through his preschool education. Viyan was experiencing success throughout these therapies but was only able to meet a 75% therapy goal. He could hear the sound but was struggling to distinguish various sounds and beats.
In the fall of 2021, this all changed. Viyan was enrolled in skilled music therapy with Therabeats. He then began to distinguish sound from different musical elements and was able to follow the rhythm. His verbal output and receptive output progress continued to improve. Given that these sessions are around $360/month, Viyan’s gift request was for financial assistance with his music therapy sessions. We are so excited for what the future holds for Viyan, and we can’t wait to celebrate his victories through these sessions.
Gift: Freedom Concepts adaptive bicycle
Given: November 2022
Location: Whitfield County
SGF launched our first Giving Tuesday email campaign in 2021, and we chose Julian and his family as our Giving Tuesday family. Julian was born on St. Patrick’s Day, weighing only 3 lb. and 6 oz. His mother, Leslie, said he is her lucky baby boy, and rightfully so. Throughout the first year of his life, she noticed that he was not meeting certain milestones like trying to sit on his own. However, the pediatrician believed it was likely due to his weight and said they would monitor the progress throughout his check-ups.
At his 1-year appointment, they were referred to a physical therapist for an MRI. The results revealed a brain bleed, and then he was diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy. The neurologist said, “This will be a problem for the rest of his life, and he will probably never walk and be 100% dependent on you.” Leslie and her husband said that their hearts shattered into a million pieces.
Julian began physical, occupational, and hippotherapy; this helped him gain upper core strength and independence. Around 2 years old, he received his gait trainer and was finally able to get up and walk around. When Covid hit, he began to regress in physical activity. He got a wheelchair shortly after, and this helped him get around better. Even though he does not walk, his outlook on life is full of positivity. Life has not been easy; he has had hip surgery, eye surgery, and gets Botox injections every 4-6 months.
Although Julian does not ask for much, there is one thing he has requested from his family. He wants to ride bicycles outside with his sister, Ximena. Julian’s mom hit the ground running to secure funds to make his dream come true. With her fundraising efforts, she was able to raise $2,000, but the cost of the adaptive bicycle was around $4,150. Leslie and Freedom Concepts reached out to SGF to see if we could assist in reaching her goal, and so we turned to our SGF community. Within 2 weeks of releasing our Giving Tuesday campaign, and still during our pre-launch, we raised $2,150 and was able to grant Julian’s gift request.
Gift: Custom harness for Jonah’s assistive dog, Miles
Given: December 2022
Location: Cobb County
God had bigger plans. This is what Jonah’s mom, Amy, said when the doctors said, “Your son has a series of four major heart defects. We can’t believe he is alive.” He was born with a cleft palate, and within the first 2 months of his life was diagnosed with hypoplastic right heart syndrome (HRHS), pulmonary stenosis, subaortic stenosis, bicuspid aortic valve, and an atrioventricular septal defect. He does not let his diagnoses stop him from embracing the joys life has to offer.
Jonah has endured countless surgeries, including three heart surgeries, a kidney surgery, two palate surgeries, ear surgery, and foot surgery. He has developed medical anxiety due to his multiple surgeries and continued appointments. A friend then blessed Jonah with a service dog, and it has made a world of difference.
Jonah is now able to walk into CHOA with confidence, and able to focus on the discussions with his doctors. He used to even be fearful of dental cleanings, but with Miles by his side he feels comforted. Not only does Miles provide comfort to Jonah, but also to Jonah’s family. Given his impending jaw surgeries and continued appointments, they are grateful to have Miles there to support Jonah along his journey.
Amy expressed a need for a custom fit harness that will allow Jonah to brace on Miles when going up the stairs, or hills. We were able to work with Bold Lead Designs to design a harness to best suit Jonah and Miles’ needs. Now Jonah will be able to rely on his best furry friend more efficiently as they enjoy the adventures of life together.
Gift: Financial assistance for medical bill, DreamGYM sensory swing kit, and supplements
Given: December 2022
Location: Polk County
Cainan’s arrival was a very scary experience for his family. He is a twin and was born 6 weeks early. During labor, his heartbeat was lost for 8 minutes; this prompted an emergency c-section for his mother, Kristin. Cainan’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. As a parent, you never know what will happen in those moments during and after childbirth; you want to think that the scariest part is behind you now that you can physically see, hear and touch them to know if they are ok. However, once they arrive, there’s a whole new set of dangers you never thought about.
After resuscitation, he had a NICU stay to monitor his recovery. Since then, he has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, language disorder, sensory intolerance, delayed milestones, and significant developmental delay. Kristin states it is not known if he has brain damage from being without oxygen for so long at birth but given his head circumference it is likely that he did. He was scheduled for an MRI in December to assess his brain activity and provide those answers.
Kristin describes Cainan as a very loving and bright little boy who has a potential for a great future with some help. He participates in ABA therapy on a regular basis, which helps him to manage his emotions. Even with insurance covering a portion of these costs, the recurring costs and copays add up quickly. Cainan’s family’s gift request included financial assistance with a therapy bill. He was also gifted a DreamGYM doorway sensory swing kit along with several supplements.
Gift: Project Playroom rock wall panels + holds
Given: December 2022
Location: Gwinnett County
Valerie “Bennie Hickman has a fire in her, which must stem from her red hair. After being diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis (AFV), she has partial flaccid paralysis of her neck and diaphragm and complete paralysis of her right upper extremity. She has endured a nerve transfer, years of PT and OT. AFV is a devastating and rare diagnosis, and the effects vary from patient to patient.
Even with all of these obstacles, Bennie strives to live a full and happy life. Her mother, Elisha, said, “Our family has seen some dark days, and have also experienced the absolute best of humanity.” She calls her daughter a warrior, and we couldn’t agree more. Bennie is a gifted singer and sang her way through her trials.
Her family hopes with continued therapies and her relentless spirit, she will continue to regain her strength in her neck and core. Given that therapy and activity are the best forms of treatment, Bennie and her family requested an indoor rock wall with holds so she can continue to get stronger in a way that feels like playtime. She has already overcome so many obstacles, it seems only fitting that she would want to take on her own obstacle course. We look forward to hearing all about Bennie’s progress over time.
Gift: Financial assistance for music therapy sessions with Therabeats
Given: December 2022
Location: Cherokee County
At SGF, we hear and see a lot of children that benefit from music and music therapy. Music has a way of calming emotional tendencies and giving a release; this is definitely the case for Michela Brown. Michela’s mom, Maria, said she has always loved music, especially Spanish music. It helps her calm down and self-regulate during tough times, and also keeps her focused during learning activities.
Michela was diagnosed with severe autism with intellectual and communication impairments, OCD, and also has sensory processing disorder with speech and attention. She is nonverbal and uses a communication device and sign language to interact with others. In addition to music, she also has a bristle block in which she must hold at all times to regulate herself. Sometimes this object changes; her preferred item was previously a toothbrush.
Given her OCD and sensory issues, she is easily overwhelmed. In order to calm her down, she has a series of rituals that must be followed strictly during the day. She tends to eat certain crunchy snacks at certain times, follows a strict bath time schedule, requires swing movements and jumps a lot, and needs music because it has a special soothing effect on her.
Michela has been participating in music therapy for a few years now and has been doing exceptionally well. Her dad is a teacher, and her mother stays home to support the needs of Michela and her younger sister, Alessia. Insurance typically covers conventional therapies, but music therapy sessions are not usually covered. We were pleased to gift Michela with financial assistance towards music therapy sessions, and excited for all the ways it will continue to benefit her.
Gift: Fencing for yard (to be installed in 2023)
Given: December 2022
Location: Chattooga County
We love when our SGF families refer other families to us! So, when we received Wyatt’s application and noticed it was a referral from one of our 2020 Gifted Families, we were thrilled. The first time we spoke to Jennifer, all she could talk about was how big of a blessing Wyatt was in her and Eric’s life. Jennifer and Eric could not have kids of their own. She felt as if she was in a mental rut, and prayed for God’s will to be done. Her cousin had her first child, Wyatt, and chose Jennifer and Eric as his godparents.
As Wyatt grew older, he spent more time with them. At age 3, he was diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and global developmental delay. None of this stopped him, he has always been a fast-going, outdoor loving, and smart little boy. He had two younger brothers at home, and his mother felt that he did much better when he would be at Jennifer and Eric’s house because he wasn’t overstimulated. His mother also knew how much he meant to them, so she allowed them to adopt Wyatt.
Jennifer said that some may question “why?” However, this was their answered prayer. Soon after the paperwork was complete, they started him in therapy and the PAL’s program. This provided him with a chance to work through some of his differences that Jennifer did not understand, and it also provided her with the opportunity to understand and approach them.
Because Wyatt is a runner, catching him can be difficult. The very same gifted family that referred Wyatt also met with neighbors and people from their local community to donate some fencing for this reason. However, given the size of the yard they feel to be adequate for Wyatt to enjoy himself outdoors safely, it is not enough. We have chosen to gift Wyatt and his family financial assistance toward chain link fencing to finish closing off a large section of their property just for Wyatt. The fencing will be installed in 2023 and we are excited to give him his own space, and hopefully give Jennifer and Eric some relief.
2022 was a Great Success, Thanks to YOU
As we celebrate the success experienced in 2022, we celebrate YOU! Because of your commitment, we are able to turn gift requests into gifting experiences and share these stories with our communities. Your contribution to SGF paves the way for our mission to thrive.
SGF exists for numerous reasons, and it’s not just to gift families with a special want or need. If you have not lived with a disability or taken care of someone with disabilities, there is much to learn from these individuals and their families. We hope to not only educate but establish the bridge that connects these families to their communities. SGF is the icebreaker to generate these conversations and serve as the foundation for these relationships.
As you plan your New Year goals and resolutions, we encourage you all to get involved and choose to give back to SGF in 2023. There are countless ways to show your support for SGF. Whether you choose to donate to our organization, sponsor an event, host an event on behalf of SGF, purchase event tickets, participate as a vendor, choose SGF on Amazon Smile, or share SGF with friends, family, and social media, you are making a difference!
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