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Mariana Alvarez was beyond distraught. Her sweet 7-year-old daughter Ana is permanently handicapped after suffering a severe asthma attack and in cardiac arrest. Ana can barely flash that beautiful smile of hers, let alone feed herself. And now, Ana, 9-year-old Mateo and 11-year-old Javier have been taken from her.

Both Mariana and Diego abandoned their family-owned businesses to be by Ana’s side at the special hospital in Lincoln. They made sure the boys memorized everything during the mandatory after-care training the whole family went through at Ana’s rehab center. And they looked for a handicap-accessible home every day for a month, but still couldn’t find suitable housing and ended up losing their Section 8 stipend.

Hanging on by a thread, Mariana and Diego is referred to Heartland Family Service’s In-Home Services, where they meet with Family Support Specialist Travis Franklin. After allowing Mariana to tell her family’s emotional, roller-coaster of a story, and display a picture of a grinning Ana, the first thing Travis does is assures the Alvarezes that he will help them get their children back and secure a new home. Diego watches as Mariana visibly relaxes in her chair, and he too exhales.

Over the next two months, Travis helps the parents fill out the necessary paperwork to reapply for a Section 8 housing stipend. Once that is approved, however, the Alvarezes don’t have any more luck finding a handicap-accessible home, so Travis assists Mariana in obtaining a 30-day extension. And finally, a home with a flat, level ramp entry is located.

But just when everything seems to be coming together, an exasperated and emotional Mariana, with her voice breaking, relays to Travis that the bathroom isn’t accessible and furnace isn’t up to code. Without skipping a beat, Travis once again searches for a solution and locates a company who will install handicap railings in the bathroom. And then he goes the extra mile and persuades the landlord to have the furnace inspected and approved.

Mariana and Diego are ready to move in, but then they get another curveball: They can’t afford the deposit and rent all at once. But Travis once again is able to negotiate with the landlord, who finally relents and agrees to split the deposit into two payments. Travis even voices his support for the family in a meeting with the state case worker, paving the way for Mateo and Javier to reunite with their parents.

Finally, Mariana and Diego are able to focus completely on bringing Ana home. Over the course of two 2-hour visits, two 8-hour visits and then two 24-hour overnight visits, the Alvarezes prove that they are able to handle Ana’s unique needs. Six months after the initial referral to Heartland Family Service, the family’s case is closed successfully. As Mateo and Javier fight over who gets to wheel their sister up the ramp and into the Alvarez home, Mariana brushes away a happy tear at the sight of her daughter’s smile. It’s different, yes, but somehow even more beautiful than before.

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