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20 Years of Hope: Elyse

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Back in 2006, when our work in China was only a few years old, an orphanage in central China reached out to us for help. They had recently received a baby born with a myelomeningocele, a severe form of spina bifida in which the spinal cord and nerves develop outside of the body. In ideal situations, this type of spina bifida is diagnosed in utero so that the spinal column can be repaired while either still in the womb or within a few days of birth.

Baby girl in Chinese orphanage

Baby Elyse was already seven months old when we learned about her medical needs, so we quickly moved her to Shanghai Children’s Hospital. Doctors there performed a complex neurosurgery to close the opening in her back. A common complication from this surgery, however, is lower-limb paralysis. We soon learned that little Elyse had indeed lost the use of her legs.

Baby in a Chinese orphanage

Soon after surgery, Elyse became part of our foster care program in China so that we could track her progress closely. We quickly learned just how remarkable her spirit was, along with her intelligence and rapidly growing vocabulary!

Girl in Chinese foster care next to a yellow cup

Elyse was part of our foster care program for just over four years while a new orphanage in her town was being built.

Chinese toddler being held by her foster mother

Sadly, upon the orphanage’s opening in 2011, all of the children in local foster homes were required to return to institutional care — including Elyse. We knew what this amazing little girl needed more than anything was a permanent family of her very own, so we once again asked her orphanage to please prepare her adoption file.

Little girl sitting in a wheelchair in an orphanage illustrating Stories of Hope

We’re sure you can imagine our happiness when beautiful Elyse was soon chosen by a wonderful family for adoption! At the age of nine, she finally met her forever mom and dad.

Little girl in red coat hugging her new dad after they meet for the first time

Chairs4Change: Their Story of Hope

Today, at age 17, Elyse is one of the founders of Chairs4Change. She and her two sisters, Jasmine and JJ (also adopted from China) call themselves “The Chairs” because they use wheelchairs to get around.

Three sisters sitting in wheelchairs dressed alike

These determined girls knew they wanted to make a difference in the world by helping vulnerable children receive the assistance they need. Elyse told her mom that if they could convince people to give even $5 to their cause, it could quickly multiply and impact so many lives. Soon after, Chairs4Change was launched with a call to action for people to donate their spare change.

Chairs4Change logo for Story of Hope

Since their movement began, these extraordinary sisters have donated over $178,000 (yes…you read that right!) to help children in our programs. Some of their many accomplishments are as follows:

Funding cleft and heart surgeries for orphaned and impoverished children

Indian boy in hospital bed

Providing wheelchairs in multiple countries

Boy wearing a mask in a wheelchair with wooden toys on his lap

Building homes for families who have no safe shelter

New Home Build in Uganda

And so much more. Right now they are working on creating one of the very first public school libraries in rural Uganda!

Crowded Uganda school with children waving

We thought Elyse should finish her own Story of Hope post…so take it away, Elyse!

Words From Elyse

We were once orphans.  
We were once abandoned.
We were once very hungry. 
We were once mistreated.
We were once called by names.
We were once helpless. 

Young girl in red in a high chair in an orphanage

We couldn’t do a thing because people constantly told us what we can or can’t be. Now we have the opportunity to do what we love and chase our own dreams to make a difference. 

Three sisters in wheelchairs raising funds to help children in need through Love Without Boundaries

We want to help others because we understand. We want to help other people who are just like us. 

Child in hospital bed withi an IV holding chocolate bar

We can’t help everybody or make everything okay.

But we can definitely help one person at a time, and that’s what’s most important.

Girl from Uganda who needed heart surgery

We’re hoping to have kids and families come along with Chairs4Change and make an impact in other kids’ lives.

Girl in a wheelchair working to fundraise surrounded by donors

Remember — it doesn’t matter whether you’re young, old, or differently abled. Just remember that a little change can change the world!

Teenage girl in a wheelchair holding balloons and roses

Elyse’s story of hope inspires us and is a testament to her incredible resilience, character, and passion. Please visit the Chairs4Change Facebook page to learn more about Elyse, her sisters, and their life-changing organization!

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