Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick | Photographed By Tara Engle
Many aspects of her life led Jessica Patay to the work she does now, including
her career, her hobbies, her children and her friends. It was her son’s
rare condition that blended those influences and motivated her to create
We Are Brave Together, an organization that supports mothers with special-needs children.
Patay, a South Bay local, has three children—Luke, Kate and Ryan—with
husband Chris. Ryan, 16, has a disorder called Prader-Willi syndrome that
has affected his development and causes him to require constant care.
“Given that I’m a special-needs mom, I know the isolation and
stress that comes with having a child with special needs,” she says.
“I had a lot of resources, but I always wondered about those moms
who cannot afford to get away. How are they even surviving every day?”
Patay says she once read “a calling is where your passions and burdens
collide.” In 2012 she started blogging about life with a special-needs
child and found she could inspire others by sharing her experience.
“I love being able to empower moms in their everyday life. I believe
so strongly in them and want them to feel that for themselves,”
she says. “I want them to realize because of everything they have
been through, they are agents of compassion in the world. They have the
honor and responsibility to reach out to others in need and support them
and lift them up.”
A close friend nudged Patay to find another way to support special-needs
moms. The two of them were already planning retreats for women, and it
was an obvious—if not easy—step to plan getaway weekends for
the mothers of special-needs kids.
We Are Brave Together was officially launched with its Summer Inspiration
Party in July 2017, and the organization held its first retreat that year.
A group of 24 special-needs moms enjoyed a two-day retreat complete with
meals, activities, special speakers, companionship and rest. Most of the
costs were met through donations.
“It was an amazing experience. The women came away grateful and refreshed,
and they felt like they were part of a tribe and empowered to go back
to their lives,” Patay says. “It’s so nice to be with
people who understand without expectations and judgement.”
We Are Brave Together offers a website, events, newsletters, a YouTube
channel, and pages on Facebook and Instagram. The group gained nonprofit
status in 2018. It started with 125 members, and that number has grown
to almost 750.
Patay says she’d like the organization to spread out in chapters
across the country, but she needs other passionate individuals to step
up. She hopes the future will bring more funding that can be used to organize
additional retreats and offer more retreat scholarships.
“I get approached out of the blue because this is a niche need. I
think it grabs people. We have a base of support, but in order for us
to grow, we are going to need some angel donors,” Patay says.
We Are Brave Together is hard “happy-exhausted” work, Patay
says, but her reward is knowing she has made something beautiful out of
difficulty. “Our journey with our son has been hard. It’s
greatly altered all of our lives. Doing this makes sense out of chronic
hardship. We didn’t choose this, but we get to choose how we respond
in our everyday lives.” •