Hannah Slaight has kept herself busy in the last few weeks. She works three part-time jobs, goes to college and is in the process of purchasing a house. She also got married on Saturday.
To her and her family, like for any other, her marriage symbolizes a new phase in their lives.
Slaight, 21, is the oldest of four children who were involved in a four-vehicle collision on C.R. 9 in Elkhart on July 26, 1999. The accident took the life of her younger sister and left her and her younger brother paraplegics.
After the tragedy, the Slaights started a ministry called HOPE, named after their youngest daughter. The ministry helped families that were going through a grieving process.
HOPE, which stands for “Helping Other Parents Endure,” has been delegated to other members of the Zion Missionary Church in Elkhart, and though the family is not as active in the ministry anymore, they still talk with families in need of comforting.
The Slaights don’t see the accident, which happened 13 years ago, as a tragedy, but more as an event that brought many changes to their lives. Primarily, it changed the way they saw their family and the community. Janet Slaight, Hannah’s mother, said her family realized the importance of knowing they were not alone as the community gathered to help them with the grieving process.
“I’ve sat down and thought of how blessed we are because we have so many people standing around us,” she said. “And I think that helps Hannah as well, to think ‘I’m not doing this on my own, and I have a lot of people who are gonna walk this with me.’”
After the accident, Zion Missionary Church and other members of the community helped the family by taking care of them at the hospital and later helping them come back to their lives, Janet said.
“They know someone is always there with them,” she said, “It’s that thing of knowing they have that unconditional love from the community.”
Hannah never saw her injuries as an obstacle for anything, Janet said. Her independence allowed her to always keep herself going on a packed schedule.
“Sometimes we look at things when our kids are little as our struggle with them, and then we realize as they get older that was probably one of their greatest strengths,” she said.
Hannah finished her junior year at Indiana University South Bend, and is working three part-time jobs at Thai Expressions, Bath and Body Works and Mosaic. Hannah and her husband, Brandon Mitchell, purchased a house in Bristol and are planning to move in after their honeymoon.
Though she never found any challenge too tough, she worried whether she would find someone who was understanding and willing to accept her. That changed after she met Mitchell.
“Before I met him, it was one of those things where I didn’t think I would find somebody that would be as comfortable with my needs,” she said.
Janet said she also worried about his family, but after meeting the Mitchells, she knew they were as loving and accepting as her family.
“He’s compassionate and loving but he’s not coddling her to the point where he’s always like ‘Oh, let me do this for you,’” Janet said about Brandon.
Mitchell, 25, said meeting Hannah’s family and knowing about their work with HOPE was inspiring to him.
“I had never known the family and that chapter of their life I missed,” he said. “But I can see the influence that Hope had and carried on from the stories, and so I get to experience that side of the story.”
Hannah and Mitchell met in 2006 and started dating the next year. They got engaged on July 4, 2010.
For Janet, as well as the rest of the Slaights, Hannah’s wedding means she will move on, living somewhere else and forming her own family.
Haley, 19, finished her freshman year at Indiana University South Bend as a business major. Joe, 18, is finishing up his junior year at Concord High School. And Brenna, 7, is a second-grader at West Side Elementary who practices ballet.
“I’ve had the realization that I have to back off, that this is her home and her family now. I think every parent has gone through that,” Janet said, “It’s one more thing to look back to and say ‘life is good’ and you move on.”