Having reared two children of her own, Sandy Armstrong of Austintown felt a calling to adopt special-needs children. That calling has brought her four more children to call her Mom.
Michael is 111/2 years old (that half counts when you are 11). He is developmentally delayed.
"Michael has a heart of gold," Sandy says of her son. "He wants to please you and make you happy."
Matthew is 7 years old. He has Down syndrome.
"He has blond hair and blue eyes that are just to die for," Sandy says with a smile. "Matthew is quiet but he has no problem getting his point across."
Marlena, also a child born with Down syndrome, is 5.
"You can just eat her up!" her mother gloats. "She's just a hoot!"
Marcus is 4. He too has Down syndrome.
"Life is good if Marcus has his shaker with him," Sandy explains. "He holds a wet wipe between his fingers and dances, hippity, hoppity around the house."
The love Sandy feels for these children oozes from her very bones. They are her sunshine and joy, though their care is often trying.
"There are times when I am just so tired," she confesses. "My feet hit the floor at 5 a.m. and don't stop until -- who knows when at night."
But she can't imagine a more fulfilling life.
"Yesterday, I had to pick Matthew up at school for a doctor's appointment," Sandy says with a look of complete contentment in her eyes. "They called him out of class and he came running down the hallway yelling my name the whole way. That's what it's all about."
Throughout the years, Sandy has needed special equipment for her special-needs children.
She's found support from a local foundation that assists families with children with medical needs.
The VanSickle Foundation raises money locally and disburses it locally to families with children in need.
"They fill in the gap where insurance runs out or financial resources are low," Sandy says
Help for allergies
Three of the Armstrong children have severe dust mite and mold spore allergies. Sandy needed a special sweeper that would pick up the contaminants in her carpet. The cost of such an appliance was nearly $1,000. The VanSickle Foundation provided the sweeper.
They put an air cleaner on the furnace and an air purifier in the house as well. Now, the Armstrong children breathe easier.
When Matthew needed a positioning chair, a common need for children with Down syndrome, Sandy enlisted the help of the VanSickle Foundation again.
"Those chairs cost over $300," Sandy says.
The foundation bought the chair for Matthew. Later, Marlena and Marcus used the chair. Now, Sandy has lent it to another family with a child with Down syndrome.
"They certainly got their money's worth!" Sandy says, beaming.
Most recently, Sandy petitioned the foundation for a fence for her back yard.
"They wander," she says, spreading her arms out in all directions. "I wanted the fence so I wouldn't have to be on top of them; so they can explore and discover their surroundings."
The VanSickle Foundation felt the Armstrong children should explore and discover in safety as well.
Today, Michael, Matthew, Marlena and Marcus romp in the wading pool and climb the jungle gym with a chain-link fence protecting them from harm.
"I thank the Lord for them," Sandy says of the foundation.
The VanSickle Foundation embodies the purest sense of community. Caring hearts of those with the gift of financial means reaching out to the caring hearts of those with the gift of a special calling for children.
XThe VanSickle Foundation will host its first Bocce and Wine Competition with Italian dinner Aug. 24. For ticket information or to compete in the tournament call (330) 270-7041.