In the early morning hours of April 7, 2011, Brown heard shots outside her home in Jamaica. She came out to the living room to see what happened.
Brown said her husband broke into the house she was living in and shot her mom, dad, brother, and daughter. Brown was the only survivor of the incident. Today, Brown lives with her sister Evelyn McFarlane in her Decatur home.
McFarlane, a nurse at Northside Hospital, said she was working at the time of the shooting.
“I was told my sister called me,” McFarlane said. “I called Joan back and someone else answered the phone saying ‘they are all at the house.’ I hung up because I did not understand what was going on and called my mom, she did not answer. So then I called the house phone – no answer.”
McFarlane called everyone who died, before she called Brown’s phone back.
“I heard Joan praying in the background,” McFarlane said. “That was when I knew something was wrong.”
McFarlane flew down the next day to be with her sister.
Brown spent two weeks in a Jamaican hospital, before she was moved via a medical emergency visa to Northside Hospital.
Brown said her main goal is to gain more independence, and to use this situation as a stepping stone.
“I do not dwell on where I am now,” Brown said. “As long as I have life, I have hope.”
Brown started working with the Shepherd Center in June 2011. She received a fitness buddy – Harris Haley – in November 2012. Haley said it was a six to eight month process before he was paired with Brown.
“When I met Joan she told me ‘When I do walk again, I am going to train for a marathon,’” Haley said. “To be honest, I can walk and I think I am more scared to run a marathon than she is.”
Haley was inspired by Brown and wanted to find a way to help her live a more powerful, independent life. Along with the help of Amir Levin, Haley started the ‘Welcome Home Project.’
The idea came from a leadership course, which both Haley and Levin took. Haley said the purpose of the project is to be a global impact. The project will retrofit McFarlane’s house to be more wheelchair accessible for Brown.
“We want to take this to the community,” Haley said. “On a larger scale, we want to partner with a philanthropic organization so that when someone leaves the Shepherd Center, their house is retrofitted to help them live a powerful life.”
Currently, Brown is unable to take a shower at her sister’s home since all the showers are on the second floor of the home. For Brown to shower, McFarlane must drive her an hour each way to the Shepherd Center.
Haley and Levin hope to retrofit McClendon’s house, in order for Brown to have more privacy and a shower with wheelchair accessibility. They launched a campaign this past weekend to raise the $18,000 needed for the retrofit of McFarlane’s home.
“The whole idea behind the kick-start of the [crowdfunding] indiegogo campaign is to get the community involved,” Levin said. “We want people to feel free to donate whatever they can afford, whether it is $5 or more to reach our $18,000 mark. Also, any remaining funds will go to help Joan with any other medical expenses she may have.”
‘Welcome Home’ has partnered with Friends of Disabled Adults and Children. The friends’ group will handle all the money and write any checks to contractors needed. Also, the group will help provide any medical equipment necessary.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit WelcomeHomeJoan.com.