Meet The 10 Families Gifted in 2021
Specially Gifted Foundation was founded in the wake of 2020. We were beyond excited for the relationships we would build, families we would become a part of, and gifting experiences we were so eager to share with our communities. Of course we knew there would be obstacles along the way, but a pandemic? We thought, “What would our SGF Gifted Families do?” and decided to embrace improvisation as we moved forward. Looking back now, knowing that in spite of it all we were able to gift 26 families in our first two years brings us hope for the future.
Did you know that SGF gifts families up to $5,000?! Each gifting is different; we strive to meet their unique needs. When you contribute to our mission, together we impact the lives of so many special families in ways we always dreamt of.
Out of the 26 SGF Gifted Families, 10 of them were welcomed into the SGF community in 2021. Upon meeting these families and hearing their stories, we consistently find ourselves in awe of the strength they encompass. Each one of these families have a unique story; we are so grateful they choose to share them with us and honored to be a part of their journey. Let’s get to know these special families we are so proud to call our SGF Gifted Families!
Meet the Bohannon family
Mom: Deanna Bohannon
Gift: Chill-Out Roller Chair, Activity Wedge, Removable Abduction Pommel, Ottoman Support Kit, and a Feeding/Activity Tray.
Given: April 2021
Location: Gordon County
Have you completed a marathon? What about a half-marathon, 10k, or even a 5k? Jakob Bohannon has! Jakob was born at 29 weeks with cerebral palsy. He also has seizures, cortical vision impairment (CVI), and periventricular leukomalacia (PVL). Despite all of this, he is full of life and loves everyone! Jakob’s mom, Deana, says he is a pistol fireball. He loves all types of music – some of his favorites are Elvis and Michael Jackson. He is adventurous, loves being a chair assisted runner, enjoys bowling and fishing, but is also content with hanging out at home. When he was younger, his parents, Deana and Travis, would carry him around in a backpack carrier so he could explore. As he has grown older, he uses his wheelchair to venture out. Although being wheelchair bound in the outdoors has its limits, his parents always tackle the challenge and try to make it possible to do as a family. Jakob’s older brother, Trey, is his caregiver; they have a special bond. Jakob is definitely loved!
As Jakob has gotten older, he has become more stiff. His family requested a Chill-Out chair in order to provide a comfortable place for him to “chill.” Since he is unable to sit up straight, using a standard chair, couch, or any other traditional piece of sitting furniture is not a beneficial option. The Chill-Out chair serves many purposes. One of these purposes that would benefit Jakob the most is providing the ability to sit up straighter, but with comfort.
We were pleased to grant this request for Jakob! The Chill-Out chair even has wheels, which has allowed Jakob to cruise around the house in comfort. Since the gifting took place, his mom has been in contact to remind us all of how happy Jakob is with his new chair!
MEET THE Nash family
Mom: Casey Nash
Gift: Disney trip, 2 gift cards
Given: June 2021
Location: Rome, Georgia
*Gifted from the Spring in the Valley Festival Fundraiser*
Parker Nash is an adorable 8 year old boy with cerebral palsy. He was born at 28 weeks, after his mother’s water broke 7 weeks prior at just 21 weeks. At only 6 days old, he experienced a very significant brain bleed that led to important life decisions for him. Of course, this is not how his mom, Casey, and family envisioned welcoming Parker into the world. Their unwavering faith would bring them through this. His family prayed that he would be happy in life, however that may look. It was no surprise when their prayer was answered. Parker’s face embodies exuberance; he is full of life.
Throughout life, Parker has encountered challenges of all kinds. He has had numerous surgeries repairing his VP shunt that is required for his hydrocephalus. Parker is mobile; however, he does not walk on his own yet. He is able to experience more independence by means of his wheelchair. This family has not only experienced, but understands the mental, physical, and emotional challenges of being a special needs family. They also recognize the importance of a strong support system, and Parker is anything but lacking in this area. Despite any obstacle deemed insuperable, the Nash family will remain positive and put their trust in the Lord.
So…Where do you send the happiest boy in the world to? The happiest place in the world, of course! Gifting a trip to Disney for Parker and his family was an experience that made us all pause for a moment and really soak in the experience. Not only was gifting Parker and his family a blessing, but Parker’s mom, Casey, later held a fundraiser to help SGF gift more families! Parker worked the cash register, and we then had the honor of being presented with a check for $2,000 by Parker himself. Talk about blessings coming full circle – this was it!
Special note: Fundraising committee member, Kandi Wade, was able to join the CoFounders in this special gifting, and you can watch behind-the-scenes here.
MEET THE DEAN FAMILY
Mom: Brandi Dean
Gift: Step2 Neat & Tidy Cottage Outdoor Playhouse for Kids and Lifetime Adventure Tunnel Playset
Given: September 2021
Location: Demorest, Georgia
*Gifted from the Three Rivers Nutrition Fundraiser hosted by the Nash Family*
Izzy Dean’s story is one for the books. Miss Izzy is not only the epitome of adorable, but she is also a fighter! When Brandi, Izzy’s mother, went it for her 20-week pregnancy anatomy scan, she and her husband, Jared, found out about Izzy’s heart defects. At only 5 days old, she had her first heart surgery and then her second at 9 months old. Izzy was also born with hemivertebrae and tethered cord syndrome. Although she can walk, she struggles with balance. In 2021, an echocardiogram revealed that one of her repairs was failing and heart surgery #3 would be in this sweet, little 3 year old girl’s near future. In addition to the 3rd heart surgery, Izzy’s family found out she would also have spine surgery before the end of the year.
Izzy has level 3, non-verbal autism. Sign language is part of her speech therapy, and her family is also learning ASL so they can communicate with her. Being non-verbal does not stop Izzy from making her needs, wants, and dislikes known. Her mother describes her as free spirited, fearless, strong-willed, and fierce. Despite the challenges she has faced, she is a very happy little girl. She loves her baby dolls, water, swinging, and playing outside. She enjoys visiting the animals at the zoo and admiring the fish at the aquarium. Being able to go places she can walk around and touch things brings her joy.
Although Izzy loves going sightseeing, being able to have a sturdy play area at home would be very beneficial. It would also give her the opportunity to explore the outdoor area in her own backyard, and on her time, with her two siblings and parents. Being that Izzy is a runner full of energy, it would provide her with her own space and equipment to exhaust some of that energy. Can you guess what we gifted Izzy? That’s right, her very own playhouse and playset! Now, she can put her imagination on full display as she turns her backyard play area into her own little world.
Special note: We are grateful to the volunteers who physically set up this gifting. Fundraising committee member, Taylor Alvey, and sponsors Blake Alvey and Dustyn Osbourne made the trip to put together the playhouse and playset for the Dean family.
MEET THE WILLIAMS FAMILY
Mom: Tiffany Williams
Gift: MDE Autism School Tuition
Given: October 2021
Location: Cobb County
Carlos Williams is a unique, mysterious, and smart young man that has a smile that could brighten anyone’s day. Carlos has Autism and is non-verbal. He is 15 years old, but cognitively is around age 4. This has not always been the case for Carlos. His journey with autism began at age 18 months. Tiffany, Carlos’ mother, told SGF, “My once verbal, fun, easy going child was gone. This new child was the new normal and I had no idea how to take care of him.” After reading Tiffany’s story, I had to go back to this statement, pause, and reflect. She may have felt this way at one time, but throughout her actions it is apparent she has always known how to take care of him.
After Carlos’ diagnosis, simple tasks became much harder. Tiffany praises an early pre-K team and Marcus Autism Center for aiding Carlos in many achievements, such as being potty trained, getting used to haircuts, taking different paths to school, and so much more. For parents like Tiffany, these are victories to be celebrated. Once he reached puberty, Carlos started having seizures. He then developed avascular necrosis in his right hip resulting in 3 surgeries, including a hip replacement at age 13. With a mound of medical bills from doctor visits, specialists, therapy, and supplies, Tiffany’s full-time job was not enough to cover these costly medical expenses. After exhausting her savings, she made the decision to move in with family. Even with the help of her mother and brother, life was still exhausting. Carlos’ many health issues led to excessive absences in school, resulting in developmental regression. The public school system was failing Carlos. Even when he was able to be in class, he was not being offered the therapies he so desperately needed on a daily basis. His outpatient therapies were often inconsistent and limited due to financial restraints, insurance issues, transportation, and other health issues taking precedence. In the midst of this storm, COVID-19 hit. Carlos’ mother came to the personal conclusion that he would never live independently. Her focus was to help him develop life skills, self-care, and safety. She felt that Carlos deserved better than what public schools could offer him and began to research private Autism schools. This is when she came across MDE in Marietta, Georgia. The yearly tuition is $22,000. Tiffany pursued every avenue of assistance she could to ensure her son had a chance to attend MDE. From fundraising, creating a GoFundMe page, emails blasts, to texts and phone calls she was able to raise $2,000. This paid for the deposit, school fees, and first month of school. Carlos also received $8,091 from the SB10 scholarship from Cobb County. Tiffany was left with $13,000 out of pocket. Despite the financial struggles and hardships Tiffany and her family endured, she refused to give up. Tiffany’s ability to improvise is admirable. Her love for Carlos is the ultimate driving force as she helps him navigate through life. Since starting at MDE, Carlos has become more verbal than ever before. His therapy needs are finally being met, he is happy at his new school and gaining independence. Tiffany was still selling items online and sending Facebook and email requests for donations when she was notified about Specially Gifted Foundation by the ABA company seeing Carlos. After getting in touch with SGF, we partnered with Cobb County’s Acts of Kindness and coordinated a fundraiser to help benefit SGF Families. Carlos was one of these families! We are so thankful Tiffany reached out to SGF and for the opportunity to gift this precious family with tuition assistance. Upon receiving the news, amongst many other sweet & kind thanks, Tiffany said, “Thank you for making my dream come true!!”
MEET THE Jeffries family
Gift: Adaptive Ski Lessons for Jake on their family ski trip so he can ski with the rest of his family!
Given: November 2021
Location: Cobb County
The stereotype about people with Down syndrome being very happy and loving is 100% true when it comes to Jake Jeffries. When Jake was born, his diagnosis of Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) was a shock to his parents. His dad, Scott, said the absence of any life experiences with people with Down syndrome was scary as they learned about their new normal. When Jake was 5 years old, he had open heart surgery to repair a congenital heart defect that is common in those with Down syndrome. Following the surgery, he started to thrive. Jake’s personality began to emerge and he would light up every room he entered. He loves experiencing life. As his dad says, “His presence in our lives has profoundly impacted our lives for the better. We are simply better people because of Jake.”
Jake is now a sophomore in high school and is very passionate about sports. He is an avid fan of wrestling and loves to go see WWE when they come to town. His favorite wrestlers are Brock Lesnar & Roman Reigns. In his room, he even has a 6 foot tall cut out of Brock Lesnar. He also plays baseball and really enjoys skiing in the winter. Prior to COVID, he even participated in the Southeast Regional Special Olympics for Alpine Skiing! Jake and his parents have been out west skiing a couple of times and he did exceptionally well with the adaptive programs they offer. His family wanted to get him back out there to work with quality instructors. Being a family of five, these trips can be expensive. Gifting a ski trip for Jake and his family so he can take his skills up to the next level would be a great idea, right? That’s why we did it! Jake and his family will be going on a trip in February 2022 and he will be able to get those awesome ski lessons he needs to level up.
MEET THE Onofre family
Jose (JoJo) Onofre
Gift: Retaining wall for his play area and a ball pit for indoor play!
Given: November 2021
Location: Cobb County
Jose (JoJo) Onofre is the youngest of three children, one sister and one brother. Jojo was born the day before his mother, Judith’s, birthday. Her oldest son made the comment that they had waited so long for Jojo. Assuming he was referring to the 9-month pregnancy, she replied, “Yes, 9 months had felt very long.” His response was not what she was expecting. He said, “No mom, we waited years.” Sheila tried to hide the tears when she realized then that the feeling she had of their family finally being complete was shared by all. When Jojo was born, they found out he has Down syndrome. Yet, when asked to describe Jojo, it’s never what she thinks about. Jojo loves being the center of attention. He is energetic, funny, kind, loving, smart, and a prankster. He also loves not only eating pizza, which he is apparently addicted to, but making his own.
Things do not always come easy for Jojo, like most kids with special needs. Regardless of how difficult or easy his day is going, he is always full of love and eager to share it with others. His low muscle tone means everyday tasks are a little bit harder. Brushing his teeth, getting dressed, chewing his food, and speaking are just a few of the basic tasks that Jojo struggles with daily. Thankfully, he is able to receive supplemental aid in these functional areas by participating in speech, physical, and occupational therapies.
Nothing slows Jojo down. He loves hiking, playing soccer, baseball, basketball, or any sport; you name it, he’ll try it. Jojo now has new outlets for his never-ending energy. Thanks to the Cobb County Acts of Kindness Fundraiser, we were able to gift Jojo with a retaining wall for his play area AND an indoor ball pit!
In Jojo’s story, his mother wrote, “the way he doesn’t give up when something is a little challenging reminds us all we can give a little more.” We can all learn something from kids like Jojo.
MEET THE Carter family
Cameron & Madison
Gift: Trip (spring break location), Vitamins and Probiotics, and 1 year of Tumbling Classes for both kids!
Given: December 2021
Location: Cobb County
Cameron & Madison Carter are siblings, both diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, speech language disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and a host of other medical conditions that manifest from having autism. Cameron is 14 and Madison is 9. Both were diagnosed at very early ages, and began early intervention programs at age 2. They have benefited from many years of educational and private therapeutic & medical interventions supporting their needs. Even though they still present deficits in communication, social awareness and behaviors, they continue to thrive and conquer challenges the average person may take for granted. Making friends, for instance, is not an easy task. Their methods of communication vary and can sometimes be too friendly because they don’t understand personal boundaries, struggle to hold a typical conversation with peers, or they can become overstimulated and engage in repetitive behaviors or other coping mechanisms. This is one of the reasons they are likely best friends; they understand one another when others don’t seem to.
Cameron & Madison also have limited diets due to their heightened sensory issues; they struggle with certain textures, smells, and tastes of foods. Their mother, Sheila, often has to purchase supplements and probiotics, not covered by insurance, to provide the proper nutrients they are not getting from their diet.
In Cameron & Madison’s story, Sheila wrote, “It is no secret that the demands of raising a child with a disability can be tough. Raising 2 with a disability is probably the most challenging thing my husband, Blair, and I have ever had to do in our lives. But, just as much as we have challenges, we have so many blessings being the parents of these 2 amazing kiddos.” They also have two older sons, Darion & Zavier, who are adored by Cam & Madi. Sheila & Blair face a fear that all parents of special needs children face – who will be responsible for my kid(s) when I am no longer able/around. Dari & Zav assured their parents they would indefinitely be responsible for Cam & Madi. This was a discussion their parents wished to never have, but they are so thankful with the special circumstances to have Darion & Zavier willing to take on that role. The Carter family is full of love and their story is such an inspiration.
For this gifting experience, we were able to book the location for the spring break trip they will be taking in 2022 AND provide a year of gymnastics lessons for both Cameron and Madison. We also supplied vitamins and probiotics. This was a special gifting because we get to be a part of their spring break trip, where they can make memories as a family, AND fund an activity that will provide them with exercise, increased coordination, and fun!
MEET THE Fowler family
Gift: The Multistander1: Supine/ Prone/Upright Standing System, Bath Chair, and renovation or trip still to come.
Given: December 2021
Location: Rome, Georgia
*Gifted from the Spring in the Valley Festival Fundraiser*
Jaley Fowler is a silly, sassy, strong and brave 3 year old. Her parents, Jared and Ashely, both had dreams early in their relationship they would have a little girl. Jaley also has an older brother and four furbabies. She loves her brother, Annie’s cheddar bunnies, butter biscuits, playing on swings, and riding around in her motorized car. Ashley reported a normal pregnancy with no indication anything was “off” according to doctors, but states that in her gut she had a feeling something was different. Delivery was normal with the exception of Jaley being born “floppy.” Within a few minutes, she was fine. On their last day at the hospital, she failed her hearing test. She then failed the hearing test again a week later. After seeing multiple audiologists, they thought her ear canals were incredibly tiny and possibly causing the failed hearing tests. An ENT referred them to have an auditory brain response test (ABR) done. Jaley’s parents were then devastated at the news that she had moderate to severe bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Around this same time, Jaley’s pediatrician received blood work results showing she had elevated liver enzymes. After seeing a geneticist, they suspected Jaley had a metabolic disorder. Additional blood work revealed Jaley had Zellweger syndrome. Her parents were given a printout, advised against “googling” it, and told to take Jaley home and enjoy her.
Zellweger syndrome is one of a group of four related diseases called peroxisome biogenesis disorders (PED). These diseases are caused by defects in any of the 13 genes, termed PEX genes, required for the normal formation and function of peroxisomes (cell structures that break down toxic substances and synthesize lipids necessary for cell function). Peroxisomes are required for normal brain development and function and the formation of myelin (the whitish substance that coats nerve fibers). Zellweger syndrome affects 1 in 50,000 infants and the prognosis is poor. Most infants do not survive past 6 months.
Jaley has fought hard! Since her diagnosis, she and her family have met with countless specialists, and she has labs often to monitor liver enzyme levels. She has a wonderful team of doctors and participates in physical, speech and occupational therapy. Jaley wears hearing aids, glasses, and has leg braces. She is non-verbal and, at this time, not walking. Her parents hold on to hope that one day she will. Every bit of progress, regardless of how small, is a huge victory for Jaley and her family. She continues to beat odds and has a wonderful team of cheerleaders and prayer warriors there to celebrate her throughout this journey.
Thanks to our Spring in the Valley Event, we were able to gift this sweet little girl with her very own tumble feeder seat with the tray and mobile base, and a bath chair. Originally the tumbler feeder seat was developed for feeding, but it can be used for any short-term activity in the home, clinic or school as an alternative to a child’s wheelchair or stander. Being able to gift items that truly benefit the special needs of our SGF Families is such a reward to us all!
Mom: Lisa Sanford
Gift: iPad, Eazy-Hold adaptive aids, trip
Given: December 2021
Location: Chatsworth, Georgia
When Rylee Sanford was born, the doctors did not leave much hope for her parents, Lisa and Ricky. During an ultrasound to check for brain bleeds, the tech noticed some abnormalities. Rylee was diagnosed with bilateral closed lip schizencephaly. Imagine being told by the doctors that your little girl would basically be a vegetable. Rylee was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy and within the last few years, epilepsy. There were very few words until she reached the age of 9. She now speaks in sentences; although they are not always clear, her family knows what she’s saying. Two things that are never misunderstood: her smile and her sweet laugh!
What the doctors didn’t know was Rylee had different plans and would spend her life proving them wrong. Although her parents noticed developmental delays as time went on, more importantly they have witnessed countless victories. She is wheelchair dependent, but able to crawl and sit-up. This sweet 13-year-old is fond of animals, loves to ride horses (with assistance), listening to music (especially One Direction and Jonas Brothers), and enjoys being in the water. Rylee even plays for the Miracle League of Whitfield County!
Lisa and Ricky have struggled with her coming to terms with her abilities. Making sure the house is accessible can often be a challenge as well; it’s a daily occurrence for something in the path of Rylee’s powerchair to be destroyed.
Regardless of any obstacle, Rylee has the love and support of her parents, two sisters, and her community at her side. SGF is pleased to now be part of Team Rylee. We were able to gift Rylee with an iPad, EazyHold adaptive aids, and a trip!
One of our Gifted families has asked to remain anonymous, and we respect their wishes.
With every opportunity to gift a family, we are overcome by emotions. We begin and end each gifting experience with a grateful heart. When our cup runneth over, it provides us with the blessed opportunity to fill the cup of another. None of this would be possible without the generous support we receive from donors, vendors, volunteers, sponsors, our SGF Gifted Families, and everyone that shares our love for the special needs community. We thank you ALL!
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Upcoming event this month:
- Spring in the Valley Festival is BACK for round two! May 12, 2022
- EBBA EXTRAVAGANZA Partnership with Spring in the Valley May 10, 2022
- The Rome Chamber Partnership with SGF April 11, 2022
- Spring in the Valley 2021 Made a Difference in Rome April 8, 2022
- Disability-Related Dates in February 2022 February 15, 2022