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March 2012 fundraiser helps families of children with disabilities

When Esther McClendon’s daughter Emily was born with Down syndrome and in need of heart surgery, Esther’s focus and energy became dedicated to meeting her daughter’s immediate health needs. But in the quiet moments between medical procedures, Esther worried about the future.

What would happen to Emily when her parents were no longer around, Esther wondered.

It was a problem that Esther was determined to solve.

Thanks to the support and help of good friends and family, Esther has an answer.

In 2008 a nonprofit called Emily’s Place was created and on March 16, 2012, the group will hold its first fundraising event. Emmy’s Ball will be held at Oakhurst Farm in Pine Mountain. Money raised will help the group’s dream -- to create a 300- to 500-acre campus with summer camp facilities, a learning center, a clinic, group homes and assisted living homes -- be a step closer to coming true.

In this Q&A, Esther shares more details about Emmy’s Ball and the creation of Emily’s Place with her readers.

Esther McClendon

Hometown: LaGrange, GA

Background: Since I graduated from high school and got married, I’ve been a mother, and stay-at-home housewife. My hobbies include sewing, crafts, cooking and baking bread. I also home schooled the children through the years up until Emily was born in 2004.

Family: My husband is Kelly McClendon. We have 8 children, (5 boys, 3 girls) and 4 grandchildren, (all girls). Five of our children live at home, (ages 7 to 18).

Tell us about Emily and your family.

We thought our family was complete with the other seven children, but God had other plans! Emily was a precious gift from above. She has been a joy and delight, even in the darkest of hours or hardships that began at the time of her birth.

Throughout the 8 ½ months of a very difficult pregnancy, there was no indication that there was anything to be concerned about with the child. At birth, we were told that Emily had Down syndrome. Within hours we learned that she would also need open heart surgery. My purpose and desire was to focus all my energy and time in making sure Emily would gain enough weight for surgery. She weighed 5 pounds at birth and needed to get to 10 pounds

After four months of round-the-clock care, she was still at 6 pounds and in heart failure. Emily was admitted into Egleston Children’s Hospital hoping to correct her tiny heart. The staff there pulled all the tricks out of the bag in order to help her gain weight, but to no avail. After several weeks of no weight gain and her heart getting weaker, Emily was on the list for surgery.

The heart surgery was successful, but other complications arose. By the time we left Egleston, (four months later), Emily had a G-tube, Fundo-plication surgery, (for severe reflux), three blood transfusions and a heart cath. Finally, we came home Mother’s Day weekend! How wonderful it was to be home with the family!

Life didn’t get back to some sort of normal for another 1½ years. There were multiple trips to the ER or hospital stays due to infections, staff or complications. My bags were able to stay unpacked when Emily was about 2 years old! After all her fighting to stay alive, to LIVE, she was now able to begin to bloom and grow. What a joy to watch her wake each morning ready to GO, DO, and EXPLORE! If you every have the pleasure to be around Emily, now 7, be sure to wear your running shoes! She’s fast, very fast!

What was the inspiration for creating Emily’s Place?

At the time of Emily’s birth, a seed was planted in my heart -- “would she have a place to go when we weren’t around, a place to call home?” That seed began to grow in small spurts, until one day, God’s still small voice spoke to me and pressed me to take the next step.

A meeting was held in February, 2008 for friends that I knew and that had been a constant help with our family from the beginning. It was decided to form a non-profit organization and name it Emily’s Place: Where Hope Blooms.

What are the future goals for Emily’s Place?

Our long term goal is to have a community campus for those with special needs or disabilities. This would include 300-500 acres where we could have summer camps, schools, a clinic, group homes, and assisted living homes, respite care, therapy of all kinds, ball fields, etc. In essence, one place where families could go for their child to live, learn, and grow to be the best God has for them.

Tell us about the significance of the phrase “Where Hope Blooms”.

Where Hope Blooms came about because we believe every person wants to be loved, accepted, and give back to others -- to bloom in colors God has given them.

What’s in store for guests at the fundraiser “Emmys Ball”?

Emmy’s Ball is our first event that we hope will be annual. It will be a Black-tie Silent Auction Fundraiser. The evening will begin when you enter the lovely candle lit walkway at Oak Hurst Farm. This is the perfect place for those wanting to celebrate a special evening. Upon entering guest will be able to enjoy a buffet of food and drinks while viewing our silent auction items.

How much money do you hope the fundraiser will raise? How will that money be used?

Our goal would be to raise several thousand dollars. The more funds raised, the more families we can help. The funds or donations we obtain can help provide things like wheelchairs, help with prescription for feeding tubes which are very costly for family’s and not covered by most insurance companies’s. Also to provide scholarship money for respite care. So many of our families just need a break, a time to get away, to refresh themselves, so they can be revived to continue caring for their child. Long term goals will be to help with surgeries..

What advice would you like to share with other mothers who have children with special needs?

The gift you have been given may seem like a burden at times, but God has a plan and a purpose for that precious child to be in your care. Embrace them, love them as they are. Allow them to be all they can be.

What future Emily’s Place events should readers know about?

At this time we have no other major events planned, as we are focusing on the Emmys’ Ball. We encourage anyone who has a desire, passion, or will to help us by using their time, talents, or resources to help us plan other events.

DETAILS

EMMYS BALL

When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 16, 2012

Where: Oakhurst Farm in Pine Mountain

Cost: $75 or $560 for a table of eight.

Website: Get tickets and more information at emilysplace.com

Email: rita_owen2@hotmail.com with questions.

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