My name is Joe Shetterley. More than two decades ago when my wife Lisa and I found out we were pregnant for the second time, my heart skipped a beat. I already had a wonderfully funny and energetic 2-year-old son, Gabriel. Imagine my joy to learn that we were about to have a baby girl. We would name her Hanna. Like most fathers, I dreamt of her in little pigtails, watching her grow into a star athlete like her mommy, and eventually having the honor of walking her down the aisle. But before her second birthday, it became apparent those dreams would start to shift.
I vividly remember the day the doctor told us Hanna's diagnosis—autism and mild mental retardation.
If the doctor had stabbed me directly in my heart, it would have hurt less. As I sat and watched the confusion and pain on my wife's face, I began to feel as though I wasn't in my own body anymore. It was surreal. I know now that was my brain's way of dealing with the pain at the moment.
But as those moments turned into days, I did not go back to embrace reality. Instead, I embraced denial and lost myself in my work. One of my deepest regrets is allowing Lisa to face those early challenges alone. The reality of Hanna’s condition really hit home when our family took a vacation to the beach. Again, I dreamt of the way I wanted it to be, how it should be. But as you can imagine, if your child has been diagnosed with any neurological or cerebral disorder, the way you want things to be and the way they are often are very different. While other children were squealing with glee as they built sandcastles and chased waves, my Hanna was eating sand and crying endlessly for no apparent reason. She would stare off into space for long periods of time. I can't adequately articulate the pain all of this caused me; but I ended our vacation early.
Shortly after that experience, I was driving to work one morning and I became acutely aware of the presence of God. He made it quite clear through a vision of what my mission in this life would be. But the task seemed too great, impossible even. I said no at first.
Hanna is 20-years-old now. Lisa and I have since learned how to care for her needs – together. We have another son, Levi. The years have been cruel at times, almost destroying our marriage and our family, but God has bigger plans for us. The vision God gave to me almost two decades ago has come to fruition very quickly over the past year. In an almost supernatural way, I have met people who are making this vision become reality. I've met business people, parents of similarly diagnosed children, architects, behavioral therapists, and supporters of the vision. Each of these individuals is willing to help further the mission, vision, and values of the Giving Hope Foundation.
All of these people are being aligned at exactly the right time to bring about Giving Hope Foundation and The Giving Family Hope Center. The Center, soon to be built on the north side of Indianapolis, will be a place where both diagnosed individuals and their families will receive the services, care, and attention they so richly need and deserve.
Our vision is that The Center will be everything we wish we had throughout the last 20 years: medical care, therapy services, advocacy, education, and respite for parents and siblings. After all my family has been through,
I have learned one thing…sometimes we are given challenges because we have the strength and abilities to change them, other times we are given challenges so we ourselves can be changed.
Being Hanna's father has deeply changed me. Now, it is my passion to create change for all families and our community. Please join me in making a difference in the lives of so many who deserve your support, guidance, and talent.
Joe Shetterley, Founder