Project Joy & Hope: Group supports families dealing with serious illness






From left: Jan Wheeler, Chris Fuller, Shelley Fuller and Sara Jean Peterson executed a capital campaign in 2016 to help secure the money for the center, which opened in March 2019. (Photos by Colleen Ferguson/Community Impact Newspaper)
From left: Jan Wheeler, Chris Fuller, Shelley Fuller and Sara Jean Peterson executed a capital campaign in 2016 to help secure the money for the center, which opened in March 2019. (Photos by Colleen Ferguson/Community Impact Newspaper)

From left: Jan Wheeler, Chris Fuller, Shelley Fuller and Sara Jean Peterson executed a capital campaign in 2016 to help secure the money for the center, which opened in March 2019. (Photos by Colleen Ferguson/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Families can spend their down time at the playground.
When River Joy Henderson had her third cancer relapse, Project Joy & Hope was instrumental in keeping the family together during her treatment. The family of seven is too large to use Ronald McDonald House services, so the Bay Area nonprofit’s apartment community allowed the Hendersons to all come to Houston while Henderson undergoes treatment.

“After long days in the hospital, it is such a peaceful sanctuary,” the Hendersons wrote in a January letter to the nonprofit. “We have loved being able to connect as a family and put all the craziness of our life the past few months away.”

The organization, which aims to promote the well-being of children with life-limiting conditions, takes a family-oriented approach with its resources and programming. Jan Wheeler started Project Joy & Hope in 2000 in memory of her daughter Valerie, who died in 1999 after battling Ewing’s sarcoma. She said she discovered firsthand the lack of area resources for pediatric palliative care, or specialized medical care for someone with a serious illness, and saw the nonprofit as a way to support other families.

“We hope that [families] discover joy and hope here no matter the circumstances,” Wheeler said.

The apartment community where the Hendersons live consists of three duplex units near the Sam Houston Tollway. The two-bathroom, three-bedroom units can house up to 12 families, and the nonprofit pays all housing-related expenses, Wheeler said. Messages of joy, hope and love are sprinkled throughout the apartment, the Hendersons said in their letter.


Families are able to use the parents room at Project Joy & Hope’s newly opened center, next door to the apartment homes, for day-to-day needs. Grant funds help the nonprofit cover expenses like hospital parking and meals, according to Project Joy & Hope’s website.

The staff hopes to continue making strides as both a training and service organization in the future, Wheeler said. For instance, the center’s education room can be used to provide training to medical professionals about the importance of palliative care.

Programming for families includes H.O.P.E. and SibShop. H.O.P.E. stands for Helping Our Pain Ease and is a series of parental bereavement support classes. Siblings of seriously ill children can take part in monthly SibShops, where they meet other children going through the same things and go on outings together, Operations Director Chris Fuller said.

Project Joy & Hope is all about people investing in people, Wheeler said.

“It’s a way we can come together and connect,” Director of Development & Volunteers Shelley Fuller added. “This is a ministry to me.”
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