prised when the show did call to set up a Skype interview. “There’s nothing she can’t do,” she says. “When she tells me something, I learned quickly that I better listen, take note and be ready!” Nadjah was invited to compete on the show, and traveled to New York with her grandparents, who were there to watch her win the episode, as well as $10,000! What does she plan to do with all that money? Use it to help kids like her. As a child with special needs siblings, Nadjah knows that there are plenty of kids who need a place to go when things get frustrating at home. So she and her mom are working on building a website for kids that will do exactly that — provide a safe place where kids can chat with others who “get it.” “I always feel better finding another mom who understands the way I feel,” says Dwan. “I want to help kids, but I want them to help me, too,” adds Nadjah, describing the site, which is still in development, as a place where kids can share good days and bad days. “I like giving back and that’s one of the ways I can help.”
We want people to leave better than when they arrived.
— Danielle Jones
Chris and Danielle Jones
learned they were expecting their first child two years ago. But things didn’t go as the couple hoped, and after 10 days of life, the Jones’ made the heartbreaking decision to turn off baby Christopher, Jr.’s (“Junior”) ventilator. Going home that night, Danielle remembers feeling all alone. She and Chris looked for ways to grieve as well as give back, including donating Junior’s organs
for research and donating breast milk. They met with a bereavement counselor, and reached out to other parents who experienced similar losses. But Danielle admits that she just couldn’t find what she was looking for. At one point, she mentioned to a friend the idea of starting her own support group. “Let’s do it!” was the reply. With Chris’ support, Danielle organized the Angel Baby Network’s first gathering in December 2015. Aiming to meet six times a year, the Network is designed not only to connect families with each other, but also to link parents to professional resources, like doctors and counselors. “I wanted our support group to be different,” says Danielle. “Our set-up includes an ice breaker, raffle items … it’s a light-hearted gathering.” She explains that while certainly parents may express their frustration and sadness, she wants them to also “feel joyful by the time they leave.” The Jones’, who are currently working on a book about their experiences titled As Sure As Tomorrow: One Couple’s Journey Through Loss and Love, are hoping to grow Angel Baby Network into a national organization. Having already fielded requests about other state chapters, Danielle is working on establishing the Network as a 501(c)(3). “When you feel alone, it’s like adding insult to injury,” says Danielle. “We’re providing families with an outlet to feel normal, to know they’re not alone as they work through this.” Angel Baby Network is open to all parents who have lost a child, according to Danielle. Interested families can learn more at angelbabynetwork.org.
It’s OK to ask how we’re doing.
— Tiffany Messer
Tiffany and Keith Messer’s pregnancy was not an easy
one. On top of carrying twins, the couple learned one of the babies suffered from congenital heart disease. In spite of many complications along the way, twins Benjamin and Lucas (see the cover of this issue) were born in June 2014 — six weeks early. Both were placed in the NICU, but Benjamin was later taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), where he underwent two open-heart surgeries in the first month of his life. Those two surgeries turned out to be the first of many over the next year — a tough journey that earned Benjamin the nickname “SuperBen.” Unfortunately, shortly after the twins’ first birthday, the Messer family had to say good-bye to Benjamin. Throughout that arduous time, the Messers found comfort in their family, friends and even coworkers, who all rallied to support them, whether they helped clean or provided meals, or were just a strong shoulder to lean on. Just before SuperBen’s fourth surgery, Tiffany’s fellow teachers at Sharpsburg Elementary in Norwood wanted to show their support. One of them came up with the phrase BenStrong, and T-shirts were quickly designed. The shirts were initially meant for the staff, but then they were offered to the families of Tiffany’s students. Soon, others purchased them and posted pictures on social media of themselves proudly wearing the shirts with the hashtag #BenStrong. “We didn’t expect it to blow up,” says Tiffany, adding that friends are even traveling with
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their BenStrong shirts and sharing pics from around the world — which the Messers say means more than financial contributions. “The monetary thing is nice,” says Keith, “but we got through what we got through because of our friends and family.” He adds that it’s important to keep the support coming, while Tiffany doesn’t want people to feel they have to shy away from talking about SuperBen. “It’s OK to ask how we’re doing,” she says. “Please do! I want to feel comfortable talking about Ben, even years from now.” Funds raised from the T-shirt sales initially helped support the Messer family, but the couple has since used the funds to donate back to the Heart Institute at CCHMC. They have also organized a toy drive and a Zumba-thon to purchase toys, gift cards and copies of the book Patch: The Braveheart Lion for the Heart Institute’s patients and families. This year, the Messers will host another toy drive on Saturday, Dec. 3 — find the details at their Facebook Page, The Many Adventures of Ben Strong. Sherry Hang is editor for this publication.
The Messer Family taking their babies home from the hospital at 3.5 months old — Benjamin was coming home for the first time.
Cincinnati Family magazine November 2016