Dr. Allen Dollar, chief of cardiology at Grady Memorial Hospital, explains why wife Shelly defines motherhood. “If anyone was born to ‘be something,’ Shelly was born to be a mother. Her patience, tolerance, boundless love and wholly unselfish nature has made her not only the ideal mother in general, but specifically the ideal mother for a daughter with extensive needs. The symbiosis between Shelly and Gabby is an inspiration, and the magic that has allowed Gabby to flourish.”
Gabby, now 31, came into the Dollar household at age 4 with cerebral palsy, and is wheelchair dependent, non-verbal and suffers from extreme anxiety. She is affected in every part of her body.
Shelly recalls that her own parents struggled for most of her childhood with a father who had multiple sclerosis. By the time Shelly was a preteen, he was wheelchair dependent. “Challenge was a part of my early life. My mother cared for him and taught me to care for him. Caring for family members is in my DNA. My dad died when I was 14 and my mom became my closest friend.”
Shelly and Allen met in Silver Springs, Md., when she was 15. A few months later, he wrote on a calendar that he met the woman he was going to marry. They talked early on about her vision of a large family and having children of all abilities and ethnicities. “He apparently agreed, as we were married in 1980. Fast forward 40 years, and we now have a huge family with three children with our DNA, five adopted, three others that call us Mom and Dad and various others along the way.”
Shelly sets the stage. “We brought Gabby into our home when she was 4. My oldest ‘natural’ child was 9 and our youngest was also 4. All of my children were immediately drawn to Gabby and treated her as though she had always belonged with us.
“They put her in typical riding toys and strapped her safely in with makeshift seatbelts I helped them create. They attached little cars to their bikes and took her for rides. They literally found amazing and creative accommodations to fit her into their lives. From the moment she arrived in our home in 1994, they have been her cheerleaders and fierce advocates helping her in any way possible,” Shelly continued.
“My role as her mother is to love her without fail. I protect her from the influences that would harm her innocence, provide her with unending possibilities, and advocate for her in every situation.”
In terms of government services, Gabby receives the COMP Medicaid waiver and for three years she received 24-hour care in her own home. COVID brought her back into the Dollar home, but now that she has her vaccines, she will return to her own place. The waiver situation is currently in jeopardy. The government organization that implements it is trying to eliminate the services and transfer her out of her own home into a group setting. “Gabby’s physical needs are so great now and her mental health is so fragile, that we fear this move will harm her,” Shelly said. “To return to my role as her mother, I am in intense advocacy mode. In a typical year, Gabby has a team that cares for her in her own lovely home in Lawrenceville helping her engage in community life as they lovingly take care of her. “
Encompassing Jewish values, Shelly believes that caring for Gabby is a mitzvah. “I believe we are called to protect and care for orphans. Our Torah mandates this over 36 times. I take this calling very seriously.”
If someone wants to adopt in this way, she advises, “Foster a child with special needs and fall in love. Once your soul connects with theirs, it’s a done deal.”
Shelly is the founder, president and CEO of Making the Grade: Hope for African Youth, a U.S.-based nonprofit partnering with Ethiopian students to help them achieve their visions and providing surgical care to vulnerable children (makingthegrade.info). She is an active member of Ahavath Achim Synagogue and chairs the Inclusion and Belonging Committee.