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The History and Impact of the Betsy Haas Fund for Children

Cat and Jay Haas’s relationship with SOAR365 began as it does for many in our community. In 2006, they were new parents with many questions, few answers and an overwhelming need for guidance and support.

Their six-week-old daughter, Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Haas, was referred to SOAR365 (then Greater Richmond ARC) for physical and occupational therapy after being discharged from the NICU. They were told by doctors that Betsy would never crawl.

SOAR365’s Pediatric Therapy staff came in with hope and optimism.

Therapists worked closely with Cat and Jay to provide the necessary therapy for Betsy. The approach was positive, supportive and not limited by doctors’ predictions. Betsy did crawl, and they kept working to see what else she could achieve.

Therapy sessions took place in their home where Betsy was most comfortable, and therapists could use what was on hand. This made it easier for Cat and Jay to replicate what they were learning from the therapists after they left. Betsy’s therapists were creative. The playroom provided plenty of toys to practice different skills. But they also used the foyer to teach Betsy to climb the stairs and a backyard kiddie pool to teach Betsy to use both her hands to splash.

Betsy’s therapists were not only in tune with Betsy’s needs, but also with what her parents needed, says Cat. That support meant so much to their family. The journey that they were on together was described as a marathon, not a race. Raising a child with disabilities can come with extra demands on time, emotions and energy. Whenever Cat and Jay needed to take a break from therapy, SOAR365 offered them the flexibility to do so and resume when they were less overwhelmed.

SOAR365’s therapists were a calming presence in their home.

Betsy received early intervention services from SOAR365’s Pediatric Therapy program until her 3rd birthday. By then, Betsy had caught up developmentally with her peers and no longer needed services. What a happy day! Cat will always remember how SOAR365’s therapists took a baby that no one had hope for, worked hand in hand with them and assured them that things would be great – and they were!

Betsy was full of life and brought so much joy to her friends and family. Sadly, Betsy passed away in 2016 at the age of nine.

“I believe that Betsy would not have reached her potential without SOAR365,” said Cat. “She had a beautiful life.”

In 2022, on what would have been Betsy’s 16th birthday, the Betsy Haas Fund for Children was established to keep Betsy’s memory alive and to ensure her philanthropic legacy. The Fund is managed by the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond and supports organizations in central Virginia that serve the needs of vulnerable children.

SOAR365 was one of the first beneficiaries of the Betsy Haas Fund for Children in 2023, when a camp scholarship was awarded. The gift made it possible for a camper to attend a week of overnight camp at Camp Baker. This summer, two campers are attending summer camp thanks to the Betsy Haas Fund for Children.

While Betsy never attended SOAR365’s Summer Camp, her parents appreciate the fun it brings to campers with disabilities and the respite it provides for their parents or caregivers.

After hearing the testimony of a family served by Summer Camp at Camp Baker, “Jay’s eyes were filled with tears,” says Cat. They want to do what they can to prevent cost from being a barrier to a child with a disability being able to experience all that Summer Camp has to offer.

Cat and Jay plan to visit camp this summer with Betsy’s three siblings. They hope to see firsthand how Betsy’s memory has inspired generosity in others to create new, happy memories for campers with disabilities.

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