MIDDLEVILLE, Mich — Before COVID-19 changed our lives, Jen Kamps already knew the demands of being a stay-at-home mom full-time.
"We get up in the morning and it's pretty much you're on the go the whole time," said Kamps. "It's the best job I could ever have."
The days are busy caring for her four children; including her youngest son, five-year-old Quentin, who has special needs.
"He had a six month NICU stay with lots of complications and infections, that is how he ended up with cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease," explained Kamps. "He's been through a lot. He has seizures, he has epilepsy due to all that, but he's the happiest kid through any of it than you could ever see. It's why I like making sure his life is good and getting him out and about and doing things, and just enjoying every minute while he's here because he's fought really hard for that."
With Quentin demanding much of her attention, Kamps admits it was tough to continue to home school him while balancing her other kids' remote learning at the beginning of the pandemic.
On top of that, pandemic restrictions and shutdowns have affected the outings that Quentin looked forward to, including lessons at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding.
"He loves going places. We come back and he usually cries when we pull up in the driveway," said Kamps. "He learns a lot from social situations, he likes to be one-on-one with people. He likes to meet new people to stay happy and stay engaged, so that's been a big thing with it too."
Kamps isn't facing these issues alone.
Other families with special needs children are taking extra precautions to keep them safe, while dealing with additional stress and disruptions to their usual routines.
"They're struggling," said Jane Eppard, the one of the founders of the Family Hope Foundation. "It's alarming. You know the anxiety, the depression, a lot of other things, I think are playing out and are exasperated by that sense of isolation."
She continues, "respite is one thing that's huge, and it hasn't been possible for these families that need it. So if you have a child that has some very challenging needs or is 24/7 care, the parents or the guardians, they're not able to get a break and so that's hard. And the children aren't able to get a break either."
The Family Hope Foundation was created by Eppard and others with special needs children; providing families with resources, events and scholarships to assist with the cost of various types of therapy.
Eppard said COVID forced the organization to cancel many of its events in 2020.
She added the demand for scholarships is up roughly 25 percent, with many asking for help addressing mental health needs.
"Exhausted is a word that I hear over and over again when I'm fielding calls," she told FOX 17 News. "There's so many things to figure out, but little glimmers of hope."
And there's some good news: the organization now plans to resume "sensory friendly" movie screenings in partnership with Celebration Cinema in late March.
For Kamps, there's also been progress.
This year her older children returned to in-person learning, and Quentin has since been able to resume riding lessons at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding to continue working on his core strength and coordination.
"He was so happy to get back," said Kamps. "He's missed a lot for COVID and you can tell when he gets back how excited he is to be there again... it's been really good for him."
And as the pandemic continues, Kamps is choosing to keep a positive attitude, despite the unknowns.
"I figure everyone has their own stresses in life and I guess I don't really compare it to anybody elses. I'm happy with where we're at. I mean there's struggles, but mine are all worth it and I wouldn't change a thing about my life. I don't love the pandemic right now, so I guess I would change that. But as far as having a kid with special needs, I wouldn't trade him for the world."
To learn more, or to donate to the Family Hope Foundation, click here.