BAINBRIDGE -- Elizabeth Shafer and her husband Richard have dedicated their lives and their 26-acre property near Bainbridge to helping the disadvantaged enjoy life a little more.
Late last week someone took advantage of their faith in their fellow man, breaking into the office and walking away with a new computer, external hard drive and HP flat-screen monitor.
It was equipment the Shafers had acquired through a grant received by their Hope's Way recreation center. The free facility allows special needs children and their families, low-income families and military families to enjoy a variety of outdoor recreational activities and animals.
"It's heartbreaking to think that someone would steal from a ministry and special needs children," Mrs. Shafer, Hope's Way chief executive officer, lamented, still upset about the theft she discovered last Thursday morning.
Hope's Way visitor information and records were among the data stored in the stolen computer.
"The computer is our survival," Shafer said. "We use it to put together our programs and make our schedules and keep track of data about our visitors, which is pertinent to our grant application process," she added. "This really cuts off our ability to communicate with the outside world."
Hope's Way serves a 16-county area in central Indiana and is starting its 10th year of aiding special needs children and their families, including physically, mentally or emotionally challenged individuals of all ages.
On site activities include horse and pony rides, hayrides, stagecoach rides, a handicapped-accessible playground and little shops not unlike those at Conner Prairie where young visitors can spend "Hope's Way bucks."
The farm also allows children to interact with more than 100 animals, including dogs, cats, goats, pigs, llamas and horses "of all size and varieties," Shafer said. Special saddles are even available to allow wheelchair-bound children to ride.
All the recreational and educational activities are free to the people who need them, Shafer said.
"I really pray for the whoever did this," Shafer offered. "Their situation must really be bad for them to have to steal from a ministry and these special needs children.
"We have several large dogs here," she added, "and since all this happened in spite of the dogs being here, I tend to think it has to be someone who has been here before."
Shafer said never before has anything been stolen or anything even been disturbed at Hope's Way, which the Shafers named in honor of their late granddaughter, Hope Elizabeth Heyse, who died shortly after her birth.
The facility, organized in January 2002, is intended to honor and serve all children. Its mission is to provide a cost-free place of recreation and respite for special needs children and their families from underserved communities.
While awaiting word on the fate of the stolen computer equipment, valued at approximately $1,500, Shafer said she is already planning her next grant application.
"I going use the next grant we get to purchase some security cameras," she said. "I never thought it would ever come to that. This really disappoints me.''