The Ryan’s Place Foundation Story

When my son Ryan was born, I got what I wished for: a healthy, beautiful baby boy. There was no greater joy than when I first laid eyes on him. I dreamed of the future he had in front of him: the school plays, soccer games, first dates, and graduations.

But life is not a straight line.

When Ryan was young, his father accidentally hit him in the head with a golf club. As a result, he suffered a traumatic brain injury. I tried to tell myself that his injury would eventually heal and our life would resume as normal.

That never happened. The son I knew was gone forever.

Even though caring for Ryan over the years has not been easy, I realize I have been given the greatest gift – a teacher. Ryan has taught me so much – often without saying a word. He has shown me the depth of my strength and forced me to exhibit courage I did not know I possessed.

Most importantly, he has allowed me to choose hope over despair. Ryan was patient with me as I learned the best ways to support him as I learned to be the mother that he needed. Over time, he taught me to pause in the difficult moments and choose a hopeful outcome.  These choices of hope have enabled me to accept our circumstances and for us to grow stronger each day.

Ryan continues surpassing some of the milestones I once only hoped he would. By watching him, I have learned the true meaning of perseverance. Because of him, I am determined to help other individuals living with disabilities have access to opportunities that allow them to reach their fullest potential.

Before, I would ask, “Why us?” While it is impossible to know with certainty “why” this happened, I believe I must act on the lessons I have been taught. That is why I started the Lollipop Kids Foundation in 2010. If I can help ease one person’s suffering and convince them they are not alone, that may be why. If I can give one person with a disability a chance to interact with friends that don’t make them feel different, then that may be why.

From 2010 to 2024, Lollipop Kids Foundation has grown to serve thousands of children with various medical conditions and disabilities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. I am grateful to have met and interacted with many amazing people. You and your children have given our tragedy a purpose. Every interaction with you and your children heals me. It enables me to fight harder and not give up. For that, I am forever grateful.

Ryan has become a unique, funny, loving, kind young man. His growth reminds me that your children have grown, too, and their needs have also changed. To best serve children through their lifespan and meet these changing needs, I realized I must take the “kids” out of the foundation’s name to reflect our growth and programming expansion. Lollipop Kids Foundation rebranded in January 2024 to become Ryan’s Place Foundation in honor of my son. He has taught me courage, strength, perseverance, given me a new perspective, and the true meaning of love. I hope Ryan’s Place Foundation can do the same for you.

  • Debbie Sahlin, Founder

Our Mission

Our mission is to empower individuals with disabilities and their families by providing support, resources, and community engagement to foster independence, inclusion, and a better quality of life for all.

Our Vision

To create an inclusive society where individuals with disabilities and their families have access to essential resources, equal opportunities, and a strong support network, ensuring they can lead fulfilling lives and reach their full potential.