Special Hope started in the heart of this family.

The first conversation Eric Nelson and Holly Holbrook ever had revolved around the topic of disability.

Each of them knew they had a unique passion to work with kids with special needs, so much so that they were not interested in getting romantically involved with anyone who didn’t feel the same.

Fast forward through three more years of college, a proposal and wedding, Eric and (the now) Holly Nelson began their lives together as most young people do. Though they always believed biological children would be the next chapter, they came across a twist in their story that led them to pursue the adoption of twin girls from Brazil- both of whom had Down syndrome.

Welcoming Maggie, Mollie, and Sam.

Upon arriving in Sao Paulo, Eric and Holly were introduced to the world of orphans and vulnerable children who had intellectual disabilities. In a city of over 23 million, there was one program that provided education and therapeutic services to kids with special needs. The lack and need was overwhelming.

After having Maggie and Mollie home for two years, and only a year after their open-heart surgeries, the Nelsons got a phone call. There was another child in Brazil in need of someone crazy enough to care. Samuel, who also had Down syndrome, arrived in Boston weighing only 10 pounds at 13 months old. Apparently, his biological parents had not been able to care for him, and there were no orphanages willing to fill in. The one where he was abandoned had been steadily decreasing his food in order to end his life.

Eric and Holly’s decision to become parents to these three remarkable children laid the foundation for Special Hope Network.

Moved by the vision.

In retrospect Holly and Eric remember Sam joining the family as the day Special Hope Network began. It would be another decade- full of caring for and homeschooling their children, Holly resuming work as a special education teacher and Eric pastoring churches- before Special Hope Network would officially launch.

Zambia is a region plagued by staggeringly high child mortality and disability rates. “a child with intellectual disabilities is considered to be cursed, contagious or a product of witchcraft,” explains Eric. “So children are likely hidden away in their homes. Parents, particularly the mothers, feel lots of shame because they’re blamed for having this child with intellectual disabilities.”

Seeing the great, unmet need in Zambia, the Nelsons made a faith-filled move across the world in 2010.

Creating a world for children with intellectual disabilities.

While Special Hope’s journey began in the hearts of this family, the vision has now grown into a passionate and generous community creating a world for children with intellectual disabilities.

For parents and caregivers experiencing stigma and isolation, the support they find at Special Hope is nothing short of transformational, as they see others who look like them, and see their child being valued and included.

“Instead of being the one parent with the kid that doesn’t do something, doesn’t sit up, doesn’t talk, doesn’t walk or won’t get a job, they’re in this together” Holly explains.

“Parents get to see their children not as a mistake,” says Eric, “but as purposefully designed by God to show his glory in a unique way.”

To date, Special Hope has impacted over 15,640 children and their family members.

Eric, Holly, and their children Maggie, Mollie, & Sam live and serve in Lusaka, Zambia.  


When you give to Special Hope, you impact communities by improving care for kids with intellectual disabilities and empowering families and caregivers to provide a loving home, holistic health, and exceptional education and therapies.