Amy is a lively 8 year old with boundless energy. She loves to play with stuffed animals, ride her bike, go horseback riding and taught herself how to swim. She’s a Girl Scout and is learning the ropes of being a YouTuber. When you are around Amy the air feels electric – her energy is contagious and it’s nearly impossible not to smile.
Like many young girls, Amy loves dolphins and when she and her family flew to Florida to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to meet Winter, the dolphin who inspired the movie Dolphin Tale, even Winter was smitten. So much so, that she came out of her pen, greeted her and showed off. It’s not far-fetched to think that Winter quickly felt the bond she shares with Amy. Winter can’t use her tail, and Amy can’t use her legs. But as they’ve both demonstrated, it hasn’t made a difference in their quality of life.
Amy has spina bifida, which for her merely means she can’t use her lower extremities. It also means that she, with the love and support of her parents Jen and Tom have chosen to strengthen the other parts of her body so nothing is off limits. Not just her arms that allow her to wheel her wheelchair at lightning speed down the ramp of her house, or pull herself up the stairs, but also her brain, which has allowed her to do things like teach herself how to swim in her grandparents’ lake or bond with horses as she rides them. But most importantly, her heart is strong and full of ambition and love.
Jen met Sara at her holiday work party. Amy was rolling around on the floor as she loves to do charming party guests when Sara noticed Amy and they hung out most of the night. Sara asked Jen if the Sweet Julia Grace Foundation could help Amy and her family, but at the time, Jen wasn’t looking for assistance – she felt they were doing fine as Amy had good care and all she needed. But as Sara and Amy became good buddies, Jen realized that the Sweet Julia Grace Foundation offered more than ‘help’ she didn’t think she needed, it offered camaraderie, support, friendship and understanding. Since the party, Sara and Amy are “besties” according to Jen and Jen considers Sara family.
According to Jen, the Sweet Julia Grace doesn’t just help with what Amy needs, but has always asked “What does Amy want?” And that has made the biggest difference. Jen and Tom don’t give Amy boundaries they want her to know there’s nothing she can’t do. But when she wanted to ride a bike like her friends, they realized that’s one thing that might be tricky. Sara and the Sweet Julia Grace Foundation provided the solution when they gifted her a hand bike. Not only does she love to ride it, like her peers she has to be reminded to wear her helmet and her favorite trick on the bike is to crash it, just like her friends do. Her SJGF iPad has provided more than just a way to game or watch YouTube, when Amy has daily time consuming tasks to complete as part of spina bifida care, it has been the perfect distraction to allow her to continue on with her day without feeling like she’s missing something.
The Sweet Julia Grace Foundation provides families with more than just help, the sense of community is unlike any other. When SJGF gave Amy a scholarship to the Rainbow Riding Center in Haymarket to learn to ride horses, her family met another SJGF family who owns a horse and has bonded with Amy.
What does the future hold for Amy? She plans on snorkeling this summer when her family goes on vacation and will be featured in an upcoming book by the Chairman of the Board of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium along with Winter. Her family has taught her that she can be unstoppable, and the Sweet Julia Grace Foundation has provided the community, love and support that has strengthened that resolve.
It’s hard to put into words the sense of community the Sweet Julia Grace Foundation provides. They are all family; Sara is part of my family. I can text her when I’m having a great day or a bad day and she always makes me feel special. Everyone feels so lucky to have met her. – Amy's Mom, Jen