How did it start?

The idea began when we underwent a life-changing experience by taking care of Joe’s father, Walter, after he had become paraplegic at the age of 77. Up until that time we had both enjoyed careers as journalists for national media outlets and had not thought much about things beyond that level.

When Joe’s father became paralyzed, his mind was still sharp and the challenge facing us was how to get him the help he needed, while still making sure he had his own life and didn’t lose the will to live.

For five years we worked on things neither of us had ever dreamed about. We got Dad situated in an assisted living facility near our Arlington, Va., home, but in order to make it work, it required many hours of our time each week to help him cope with problems that are unique to paraplegics.

During that period, we also managed to get Dad to our Outer Banks house for what turned out to be the last two vacations of his life. Up until then, we had largely viewed the house as a nice getaway, a good investment and a way to earn rental income. That view started to change over the years, especially with those two trips. Dad so enjoyed visiting the ocean despite his wheelchair that we began to see the house in a special light.

 Our outlook changed for good while we all were still trying to recover from the horror of September 11, 2001. Two months after the attacks on New York and Washington, Dad suffered a serious stroke and we spent the next 15 months working virtually full time to help him recover.

 Various complicating medical conditions and the frustration of dealing with the health care  system often put us at the end of our rope. It was then that the beach house became a refuge for us as it had never been before.

 During those 15 months we were only able to get to the house on rare occasions – and  only for very brief periods because of the attention that Dad needed. However, each  visit helped clear our heads and gave us the energy to continue the fight back at home.

 After Dad died on Feb. 15, 2003, we started to work on ways to make the house available to others who also need a similar break.

 What has resulted is the Joanna Project.

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