We had the good fortune of connecting with Darla Farmer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Darla, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
My husband and I both experienced traumatic health issues in 2006, I had a benign brain tumor, and my husband a massive heart attack. He was not expected to live but pulled through and is strong and healthy today. I lost the hearing in my right ear, and my husband had a stroke in both eyes and did not have vision in the upper portion of both eyes. He is half-blind, and I am half deaf, and we still make a strong team celebrating 40-years of marriage on August 15th. After these incidents, I had a strong sense of urgency to give back, to help, to do something, what was my legacy? A million thoughts were urging me to do more; little did I know it was staring me in the face. My friends, Hope and Eric Montgomery live in Richmond, TX. They have four children, Collin, age 17, and three little ladies we affectionately call the “Triple Divas.” The girls, Londyn, Lakin, and Lauren, age 14, are identical triplets, and all three girls have autism spectrum disorder (ASD or autism). The girls were born on the anniversary of my Mother’s passing, March 25th; they will always have a very special place in my heart. I like to think God took one angel and gave us three back. Watching this family navigate the muddy waters of trying to find doctor’s insurance would cover, specialized schooling (two-year waitlist), and needed services and supports were overwhelming, exhausting; the family was financially, emotionally, and mentally drained. I was at a point in my life as an empty-nester, my husband and I were strong and healthy, and I recognized the need to help families like the Montgomery’s. After 13 years of employment in the corporate setting, my husband and I became entrepreneurs, self-employed, and beyond blessed; I was confident I could start a nonprofit—what a learning experience it has been. Autism awareness did not exist in Fort Bend County. I had never heard of autism, and after researching local papers, magazines, and institutions, I recognized the urgent need to generate awareness and provide resources and support to children and families living with autism. My husband and I approached Hope and Eric, to discuss sharing their journey. The Montgomery’s are two very private people, hard-working and take pride in providing for their family. However, they both realized they could not do this alone, and by sharing their story, they could help so many other families others living in the trenches of the crazy, confusing world of autism. It took some convincing, but they agreed, and Hope For Three was born. Mom’s name is Hope, and the three girls are where our name is derived.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Hope For Three is unique. We are the only nonprofit in the county to provide financial assistance on a monthly, continuous basis for autism-related services. We never provide funds to a parent/caregiver but make payments directly to a service provider, treatment facility, or vendor. In short, we bridge the financial gap between parents and providers. We also provide resources, referrals, and support to anyone, anywhere regardless of location. The organization has about 12 programs and six annual fundraising events and outreach efforts. Hope For Three holds numerous smaller efforts through the year, and is best known for generating autism awareness. As stated previously, prior to our existence, awareness did not exist in Fort Bend County. This led Hope For Three to become the preeminent autism advocacy organization in the county and Greater Houston area. Why is this important? Our community, extended family members, and friends MUST understand the characteristics of autism and how to engage with families and children on the autism spectrum. The more people know, the more they will do. The first step is awareness; the second, acceptance. All families deserve to be included in everyday activities, like any other family. There is so much judgment and misunderstanding about our “ausome” kiddos, the need to create awareness and continue to provide inclusive opportunities is of the utmost importance. Was it easy? NO. Was it worth it? YES. Challenges turned into valuable lessons. In the beginning days, I wanted to help EVERYONE. Linda, my friend and mentor, reeled me in with “You cannot be all things to all people. You must identify a target audience and develop more programs to align with the audience.” She was, of course, right. We had already identified the urgent need to raise autism awareness, financial support, etc., now how do we develop programs to expand our reach, reach the masses, and more? Several programs and opportunities arose out of need. What lessons have I learned? Patience. Understanding. Do not judge. Be empathetic (families do not want sympathy, this is their normal but they do appreciate empathy). Be grateful. Thankful. Kind. Rise above. Keep it professional and remove the emotions. Stay true to our mission. Listen to your gut. Be wise in your choices and decisions and how it affects others. Through the many sleepless nights worrying about raising enough funds to support families, pay our employees and overhead, to the tears, fears, and headaches, and then one smile, a sincere Thank You, to a hug from an unknown child makes every challenge worth the reward. Serving with Hope For Three as a volunteer and now CEO has changed my life, perception, happiness, and fulfilled a passion that strongly identifies my purpose, here on earth. What do you want the world to know about you, your brand, or the story? We care. I would like to think as a leader I have set an example for others to follow. Where we started, and how we’ve grown, makes our nearly 10-years of actions speak louder than any words. Through collaborative efforts and partnerships (a must for success), we developed programs to reach the masses, serve all members of a family unit, and be the support to extended family members. I expect the organization to continue to serve for many, many years. There is a great need for an organization like Hope For Three. Although we do partner with others, no one does what we do. We are the only nonprofit in Fort Bend County to focus on autism and no other disability, and the only nonprofit to provide financial aid on a continuous monthly, year-round basis. My personal 10-year goal was to award $1,000,000 to local families. We accomplished this goal, December 2019. I did not bring Hope For Three to the forefront in the community myself; it took a wheelhouse of important people, community support, grantors, employees, volunteers, and a caring, engaged Board of Directors.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Best time ever … Headed to the beach for sunshine, rest, and relaxation. Off to dinner for fresh seafood (if they like!), Wine. An early night in with more adventure to follow. Shopping, good food, lunch meet-up with more friends. Wine. Back to the beach. Find places we have not visited before perhaps historical. A comedy show. More lunches with friends you only see 1-2 times a year. Quiet time to catch up, conversation. Wine. Spa visit. Walks (but not in the heat of Houston!); early morning, late afternoon. Visit friends you may never see again. There is no time better spent with good friends. They are the family you get to choose. I am lucky to have a group of “Gal Pals’ that meet on a regular basis, albeit every two months now and Zoom, we still make time for one another. We have ALL supported each other through good times and bad.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My husband and friend and mentor, Linda Shultz. My husband, Donny, as most know him, is remarkable. He is my rock, confidant, and best friend. He cries with me, laughs with me, and listens to my trials, tribulations, challenges, and is always there to celebrate the rewards. He is incredibly supportive of ALL that I do. Hope For Three will celebrate its 10th anniversary, April 2021. The roller-coaster ride of traveling the autism journey has been the most exhausting, exciting, overwhelming, and rewarding job I have ever experienced. Next to my 40-year marriage and my two adult children, Hope For Three is what I am most proud of. My husband has been by my side through thick and thin. He continues to lend support, an ear, shoulder, and always a hug and encouragement. Linda Shultz. Linda is a long-time friend I also met through volunteerism, as I did Hope. Linda was a serial Executive Director (ED), first with Child Advocates of Fort Bend (CAFB), putting the agency on the map as the leading child-abuse prevention nonprofit in the county. Linda also created and founded Parks Youth Ranch, a homeless shelter for young adults. Linda, the first ED of CAFB, and the founder and ED of Parks Youth Ranch is a dear friend and mentor. It was her advice, direction, nonprofit experience, and expertise that I depended on and sought guidance. She is a remarkable, no-nonsense kind of lady who I admire, respect, and consider one of my very best friends. Linda guided me through the early days at Hope For Three, from grant-writing to building relationships and always, always was, and is, available for a shoulder to lean on. Her support through challenging times is irreplaceable. I contribute a tremendous amount of our success at Hope For Three to Linda Shultz.
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