SUMMARY: Kevin & Shannon Fenske are the parents to 5 wonderful adopted children (all of whom have a varying degree of medical needs). They are by no means normal parents. They are some of the most sacrificial & unconditionally loving parents I've ever known.
Their youngest, Marissa, has a life-threatening brain condition, called Hydrocephalus (also called "water on the brain”) - where cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is unable to drain from the brain. It then pools, causing a backup of fluid in the skull. If she doesn’t receive the proper care she needs, it can lead to brain damage, a loss in mental and physical abilities, and even death.
They currently live 1 hr from the American Family Children's Hospital - where Marissa can get the proper care she needs. She has seizures often, and sometimes it can become a life or death situation. So the time it takes to get her the care she needs is CRITICAL. To date, Marissa has undergone 64 surgeries. And everytime she's in the hospital, her mom, Shannon, stays with her, but away from the rest of the family, which has been extremely hard on the other kids who need their mommy.
They are unable to move out of their home because their home is worth $30,000 less than what they owe on it. So after relentlessly pursuing several options, including a short sale, and other alternatives, the crowdfunding approach is pretty much their real last hope.
GOAL: To raise $55,000 to pay the difference for their current mortgage (they are upside-down in), and to help them move into a more accommodating home (for all the challenging needs of their family), closer to Madison, WI, where they can give their daughter, Marissa, along with their 4 other amazing, adopted kids, the proper care they need at the American Family Children's Hospital.
BACKSTORY: At one point, they were just my (Neil Mathweg) clients. When I first met with Shannon, I thought I was just going to help them sell their home in rural Wisconsin - in Reeseville (1hr outside of Madison). Well… it turned out to be much more than I ever imagined.
When we first met, it was mainly me trying to sell her on me - more or less, being an arrogant salesman. Because, after she told me WHY they wanted to sell their home, that’s when I felt like such an IDIOT!!
Shannon: “The reason why we NEED TO MOVE is because of our kids.
Shannon: “Yeah. For instance, one of our kids, Marissa, has physical & developmental disabilities, So she requires a lot of care. She has a brain condition called Hydrocephalus, and she has cerebral palsy, and she has seizures . When she has to go to the hospital, it takes up two hours to get her the proper care she needs, because we live so far out of town. In fact, local hospitals have asked us to not bring her to them because they don’t have all the sufficient resources to help".
Me: “Wow” (not having any idea what else to say)
Shannon: “Because she’s wheelchair-bound, we carry her in and out of the house, up and down the stairs. So living in a bi-level house makes it really hard…we’ve fallen down while carrying her up and down. But with being upside-down in our mortgage (they owed $150k but it was worth maybe $120), I don’t know how we’re going to get into another house (She took a deep breath).”
Me: “Oh my gosh! You really need to move! You guys are literally trapped. I’m so sorry!
Shannon: “Yeah… almost all of the other agents we met with suggest we should do a short sale. But we can’t, because if we do that we short the bank, and we feel that’s dishonorable. Besides, with 5 children with special needs, we need more room than an apartment can provide. We really need to buy another house!”
Me: "I tell ya... I’m just floored right now…eyes filled with tears... and I gotta take the realtor hat off and just help you as a dad and parent.” (I stacked up my folder and paperwork and shoved it to the side). We really need to do something! I just need to help you. Um.. you know what… I’m can't charge you anything for selling. We’ve just got to focus on you and get your family out of this house. (Thinking my commission might help bridge the gap)”
Shannon and I went on to talk about some of the steps she already tried to take, and I gave her some suggestions and recommended some resources to follow up on. I left telling her I would be there to help her anyway I can.
But sadly, I didn’t do a great job. Business for me really picked up quite substantially over the next several months, and I just lost track (hoping something would happen for them).
Then, in early July 2014, she reached out to me in an email.
Hi Neil -
I hope it's okay that I'm contacting you. I know that we were going to meet last Fall, but didn't. When I didn't hear from you, I assumed it was because you probably didn't really have a way to help us and I didn't want to push you. You have been more than gracious with your time, patience and on a personal level, your prayers for our family. Still, I chose hope and I chose to believe in miracles because I have seen them happen time and time again through the survival of my children.
I have been working diligently on my own this past six months to try and find a solution to our situation. As expected, I've gotten nowhere. I'm reaching out one last time to ensure that all of my bases are covered before we make a decision that could put is in a worse situation. You have always been so straightforward and honest - the most honest person in Real Estate that I've ever met! What I've been told so far is that we cannot get a WHEDA or FHA loan, Movin Out will not help us with relocation or down payment, only minimally with ramps, etc. Unfortunately our current home cannot be made accessible and we simply cannot stay in it due to it's location. Marissa had a life-threatening event in January that required Med-Flight to take her to AFCH in Madison. It took over 2 hours to get her there from our home. It took nearly a 1/2 hour for Paramedics to even arrive at our home! We cannot risk this happening again or we could lose her. It is truly a life-and-death situation that we're in. If we stay, we risk her dying; if we move, she has a chance at surviving these events because Paramedics will be only minutes away. Over the past six months, she has had 7 hospital admissions and 10 surgeries. I have spent more time away from home than at home. It is literally tearing our family apart. We have no one nearby to help us as our friends and family are not in Reeseville. Our kids don't go to school there, their friends are not there and their before/after school program is not there. We have to get out and get to Columbus where we have support and our kids can have stability. Most importantly, we need to get into a safe home close to medical care.
Many people have told us to file Bankruptcy, do a Short Sale, or walk away and just let the bank take our house; but all of those things mean we can't buy another home. So my question is, if we do any of those things...where do we go then with five kids with special needs?? We can't move into an apartment and we aren't going to be able to find a rental home suitable for us. The lenders and other realtors I've spoke with are out to make a buck. I know you will give me an honest, genuine recommendation. I can't lose my child just because we don't have money.
I know you're a busy person, Neil, and I don't want to burden you, but you are truly our last hope.
So after I read that, I just HAD TO DO SOMETHING! No more waiting around.
I thought, maybe we should look into some kind of crowd-funding or something. So my team and I connected with her over the phone a couple of days later, and interviewed her to see how we can help her, and to hear more of the story.
Soon after we got on the phone, we were pretty floored by her situation, because it was even worse than we even realized from our previous conversation and her recent email.
Like I said, she and Kevin are adoptive parents to 5 kids (all of whom have varying degrees of medical needs). So, beyond what she already told us about Marissa, she gave us more details about she and Kevin and each of their kids and their situation…
- Shannon is a lab tech at UW Medical Foundation
- Kevin is an Aircraft Maintenance Manager at Wisconsin Aviation.
- Esen (8) is their oldest, and they adopted him from Kyrgyzstan. He is autistic and needs special care & attention. When they adopted him, he was 12 months old and very sick. He had severe malnutrition, neurologic problems, and developmental delays.
- Bamlak (7) and Hiwot (7), their middle children, were adopted from Ethiopia in 2012, also have special needs.
- Kamila (6), is also from, and still living in Kyrgyzstan. She has a bilateral cleft lip and palat,e and needs several immediate surgeries as well as intensive therapy. After a long 6yr journey to bring her to the U.S., she is finally home!!
Kevin & Shannon sleep in the basement, so that their kids can have the accessibility and the care they need.
After learning a bit about her family’s situation, we asked Shannon why she and her husband, Kevin, do what they do - why did they set out to adopt their 5 children… children who many people overlooked, and might consider to be unadoptable. She didn’t give a long articulated response, just a profoundly simple, and simply profound answer...
If Not Us...Then Who?
As she said that, we just looked at each other (overcome with emotion and goosebumps), and whispered, “WOW!” to each other.
She told us that this is actually their family motto. It’s what they teach their kids everyday. Not just by loving them unconditionally and sacrificially, but with an everyday approach. From someone needing a helping hand, to seeing trash on the ground - “If not us, then who?”
She said, “These kids, they needed a chance - they needed us, and we needed them. We can't bring home every child, but we can do our part to raise awareness, encourage and support other families in-process and make the idea of special needs adoption less scary to potential adoptive families. That's our goal. Every single child has a right to a loving family.”
We were so floored and impacted by all of this!!
Bottomline is - Time is running out. Time is NOT on their side.
And just like I was challenged by the Fenske family, I encourage you to do the same...
Ask yourself, “If not me, then who”?
DonationsSee top donations
- Jaimie Wales
- Jes Scheel
- Julie Fincutter
#1 fundraising platform
More people start fundraisers on GoFundMe than on any other platform. Learn more
Expert advice, 24/7
Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more