From time to time, we come across families who have found a way to generously give back to their community at large, despite their own complicated circumstances. These families have a special place in our hearts, especially because they are selflessly helping further our goal of cannabinoid access for all.
The Howard family are a typical Texas family from outside Dallas, with a daughter who is anything but. After just a few weeks of life, Harper received the diagnosis that would forever change the family’s world.
The parents of a special needs child, it would have been easy for Penny and Dustin Howard to accept their lot and turn inward, focusing on their own family… but they never did. From early on, they saw their situation as a chance to better the world around them, creating the Hope4Harper nonprofit to raise awareness surrounding their experiences with their daughter.
From the beginning, Penny and the Howards shared Harper’s story online, hoping that sharing their experience would somehow help others. For them, this was the basic form of giving back.
Started in the summer of 2011, the Hope4Harper blog now contains 44 pages of posts, covering everything from the elating to the heartbreaking, during Harper’s nearly six years of life. Most posts are written by Penny and present a way to follow along with Harper and the family’s progress day to day. Along with the Hope4Harper blog, Penny runs a companion Facebook page and group to help similar parents interact with each other and share updates.
It was this Facebook page that Katiele Fischer, a mother in Brazil, discovered when doing her own research. Through the Hope4Harper page, Katiele found CBD hemp oil and decided to give it to her own daughter, Anny.
However, all forms of cannabis were banned in Brazil at the time, so the Fischer family took their case to court. After just three days, little Anny was granted permission by the Brazilian health authority to be the first person in the country to import and use CBD hemp oil. Without the Hope4Harper Facebook page, this development may never have happened. Just this month, these two families, the Fischers and the Howards, separated by over 4,000 miles, met tearfully for the first time during the Fischer family’s first trip to the U.S.
In addition to the updates provided through their website and Facebook page, Hope4Harper organizes a series of fundraising events to help further the studies needed to better understand how neurological disorders affect the brain.
“…all through local group fundraising efforts,” says Penny. “It has been amazing to see how a small community helps a small organization with BIG dreams grow!”
Hope4Harper organizes the annual Run4Hope 5K near their home in Carrollton, Texas. Each year, Medical Marijuana, Inc. portfolio company HempMeds® helps sponsor the run, and members of our team are regular participants at the event. This year, the Run4Hope grew to its largest point yet and raised nearly $20,000 for continued neurological research. However, as the Howards say on their webpage, they aren’t interested in just raising funds. They are raising hope.
The Howard family also used to lead the annual Hoarding4Hope indoor garage sale. Held yearly, the event sold donated items like clothes, electronics, sporting goods, and houseware and decor to raise the funds needed to support the Hope4Harper organization’s causes. Local businesses also donated to the event, including a local Dallas area coffeehouse that provided free coffee to shoppers at the sale.
Through it all, young Harper was a beacon for hope for everyone whose life she’s crossed, including her own family. Sadly, Harper’s ultimate contribution came upon her tragic passing earlier this year. Since then, her donation to medical research has allowed scientists to pursue a greater understanding of neurological diseases.
Immediately following Harper’s death, the Howards acted to donate Harper’s brain and tissue to the Muotri Lab at the University of California, San Diego. This decision, considered in advance of Harper’s death, was made to carry on the valuable work the Howard family and Hope4Harper began when Harper was alive. At the Southern California lab, Dr. Muotri and his team are using Harper’s stem cells to grow “mini-brains” that will give researchers a unique view into the development and treatment of neurological conditions.
“In addition to Harper’s living cell line in California, I am really in awe at how Harper’s brain is actually at this very moment being used in the original research project we started 5 years ago,” reveals Penny. “There is not a single research effort we are funding that does not have Harper’s physical presence involved!”
Penny now travels around the country to help raise awareness for conditions like Harper’s, speaking at a number of health conferences and business expos to further Harper’s legacy of hope. As an organization, Hope4Harper has raised almost $200,000 in donations for neurological research and continues to plan fundraising events in the future to keep Harper’s memory alive.