A home for Justin: Knowing you are loved



Justin Hammer, now 13: “Isn’t he handsome!” his mother often says. Photo by John Knepper

Imagine raising a blind child. The child is also autistic and non-verbal, with some slight cerebral palsy in his feet. You adopted this child by choice, because you fell in love with him, and he desperately needed a loving home.

Meet Mabel Hammer and her husband Eddie who live in Rockingham County and have done just that. They had two daughters and seven grandchildren, but were looking for another child to love. In fact they had been in the process of contacting a surrogate mother when Mabel came across a photo of Justin, on a website showing children open for adoption. She saw the picture and said, “Oh my goodness, this is my son.” They have a big heart for children—especially those caught in a difficult situation.

Now meet Justin. His birth mother was mentally ill and used drugs to deal with multiple traumas she experienced in her native country in the war torn Middle East. Thus she took drugs while pregnant with Justin. Justin was born in the U.S. and his father ran several businesses. He was eventually jailed, so Justin ended up in a foster home. Unable to express his fears, feelings and rage, he communicated the only way he knew how—by lashing out. Mabel says Justin would cower and cover his head because he never knew from his prior living situations (and couldn’t see) when someone was going to hit him or burn him with cigarettes. He was confined to a closet and not given enough food by abusive foster parents and was extremely malnourished and small for his age.

Mabel says when she saw Justin’s picture she felt “God placed him in my heart.” She began tracking down how to locate him for adoption. He was in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. When she called the agency, she told them, “You have my son. I’m ready to bring him home.”

From a family scrapbook: Eddie Hammer, left, looks on while Mabel, right helps their son, Justin with one of his communication devices. Photo originally by NBC4-TV’s “Wednesday’s Child” (Washington, D.C.) production crew

Mabel and Eddie arranged to meet Justin with a case worker at a McDonalds in northern Virginia. They hung out together for about four hours getting to know one another. The match seemed like a go from both ends. He stared into their faces, even though he couldn’t see. They told him of their love for him, their home and how they wanted to be his parents, even though he couldn’t say anything back. They wanted to take him home right then, but there was much to be done to prepare for Justin. They saw him two more times as they worked through paperwork.

Then Mabel got a call. The social worker said, “Are you sitting down?” Mabel did not sit down but the worker’s next words took her to her knees, saying they had become aware that Justin was being abused in his foster home—the adoption was on hold for an investigation.

Justin would cower and cover his head because he never knew from his prior living situations (and couldn’t see) when someone was going to hit him or burn him with cigarettes.

The way was eventually cleared for the adoption to go through and the Hammers were able to go and pick up Justin in a parking lot to finally take him home. While the love and commitment were always there, the Hammers also have done much to adapt their home and lives to accommodate Justin’s special needs. They replaced their windows with shatterproof glass so Justin wouldn’t be able to break windows which he banged on because the smooth glass surface fascinates him (as it also reflects heat and cold). They got a large poodle and fenced in part of their property to accommodate an Alpaca (similar to a llama) and a lamb, so Justin could enjoy their textures. They turned an old chicken house into a room where he could have a drum set, as he has always enjoyed rhythm and tapping out intricate rhythms with his hands.  They winterized a porch for a hot tub because he loves water play.

Broadway Lions Club members in yellow shirts from left to right: Bob Hughes, Mary Beth Schwab, and Elaine Long, with Justin, Mabel and Eddie Hammer earlier this summer. Photo by John Knepper, Broadway Lions Club

He is able to use a “talk box” to communicate some of his needs, where you point to objects or pictures on a screen. Mable also made their own talk box, using textured objects such as a pretzel, feather for chicken, grains of rice and a cardboard pizza triangle, to express an interest in a choice of foods.

An iPad would be an immense help with a special grid for the blind but so far Mabel’s efforts to apply for grants have not worked out. Many times kids with autism use iPads at their school but the equipment then needs to stay at school. At the private school he attends for kids with special needs, Justin works on learning basic life skills like brushing teeth, toileting, signs and other means of communicating; they hope he can eventually learn Braille.

The swing the Broadway and Timberville Lions Clubs purchased for Justin is shown in the inset photo. Photo by John Knepper, Broadway Lions Club

The Broadway and Timberville area Lions Clubs purchased a special adaptive swing for Justin last summer. One of his teachers wrote of how just being able to swing helps Justin. “He requires stimulation in many different ways, due to his unique needs. Justin needs activities for motivation and pleasure. Due to his blindness, Justin does not feel safe on a regular swing. An adaptive swing is much more comforting and safe for Justin.”

The Hammer family was featured on the “Wednesday’s Child” segment on NBC4 local affiliate in Washington, D.C. in 2013, which highlights families who have chosen to care for children in desperate need of a loving family. “Justin made our house a home again after we moved here,” Mabel says. “I’d like to emphasize there are many kids out there in need of a home. There is hope for these children.”

Mabel also would like to call attention to the fact it wasn’t just they who chose Justin, but he chose them, too. “The love he shows is like none other. It’s genuine and is the best feeling in the world. Justin gives back just as much love towards us.”

Even though Justin is considered non-verbal, at times he does say a few words such as yelling “Mom.” One evening after work when Eddie and he were doing the father-son- arm-wrestling-horsing-around thing, Eddie, enjoying the moment, asked Justin, “Do you know how much I love you?”

Justin responded, “I know.”

Mabel Hammer points to a photo of Justin with a birthday hat; the inscription on the photo reads from Isaiah 8:18: “Behold, I and the children whom Thou gavest me…” Photo by Melodie Davis

Both Eddie and Mable sat stunned for about five minutes in their living room, not believing what they thought they’d heard. Eddie finally broke the silence. “What did you think he said?”

“I think he said ‘I know,’” replied Mable.

Eddie affirmed, “That’s what I thought too.”

MELODIE DAVIS, editor of Living, is the mother of three young adult daugthers, and lives wih her husband near Harrisonburg, Va. She also blogs at www.FindingHarmonyBlog.com.


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