Our Story

Our Sweet Grace Ministries board and coordinators dedicate their time, talents, and hearts to improve care for families enduring all types of infant loss.  Many of the individuals that serve Sweet Grace Ministries do so in memory of their own sweet babe/babies.

In August 2001 I married the man of my dreams, my best friend who had been a best friend through high school and college.  For years I knew I loved this man and yet the reality of being in love with your best friend and the fear of losing that was deep.  Little did I know he was feeling the same way.  After years of people assuming we were dating and hating each other’s significant others we made it official, dated for 5 months, engaged for 8 months, and became husband and wife.  After our honeymoon we returned to Penn State as young married students without a care in the world.  We graduated and decided to move back home to be near to our families.  We quickly found jobs in our fields, hung out with friends, enjoyed time with family, and floated through life.  We could have never guessed the storm that was about to hit.

In October 2002 we found out we were pregnant.  This was a complete shock and neither of us knew what to think or if we were even ready to be parents.  That shock quickly turned to excitement and joy as we thought about becoming a family and having a little piece of us to share!  We embraced God’s plans and started sharing the news.  We could barely wait to get to our 20 week ultrasound, we knew we wanted to know the sex and see all the baby’s fingers, toes, and sweet little face.  I remember bouncing into that appointment and then watching the ultrasound tech’s face.  She was quiet, unsure, cautiously showing us body parts as if she didn’t want to say too much.  I knew something was not right.  We had never been through this appointment before but I knew.  I squeezed Josh’s hand as hard as I could and prayed silently for God to make everything OK; I remember repeating that over and over.  The tech left and returned with another tech, more silence and uncertainty.  They then asked us to get changed and to wait in the hall. I broke.  I could not hold it together.  Josh, although I know he was concerned, just kept telling me it was OK.  I knew it was not.

Dr. Peterson called us back to his office and as he walked in, God bless him, I could tell his heart was hurting.  I knew this was the appointment he never wanted to have.  As he talked and described our baby’s condition I think the only thing I heard was that our baby was a girl, we were having a girl, our baby was a girl.  The rest was like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher, it all sounded like mumbling and the state of shock was almost too much to handle.  Leaving the office, Josh and I talked and he explained that Cicely had non-immune hydrops, a condition almost never compatible with life outside the womb.  It was possible she may not even make it another week and if she did make it to full term she likely would die shortly after delivery. The next few hours, days were a blur of visits, prayer warriors, Hershey Medical Center appointments, and the continuation of shock and disbelief that this was occurring.

The next 8 weeks we attempted to live life, love our baby girl, enjoy her kicks, hiccups (which were many), and cling to God and each other.  I prayed daily for God to “fix her”, for Him to make it OK, for a miracle to occur.  About a week before Cicely’s death I met with our dear Pastor Linda Harter who asked if I had prayed for God’s planning, God’s will for our life and for Cicely.  When I got past the anger and selfishness of what she was asking for me to pray, there was release of stress and emotion.  There was some sense of peace in a time when peace seemed impossible.  A week later I felt no movement. God had waited for me to pray for His will and not my own.

The ultrasound confirming our sweet girl had gone to heaven was horrible.  My heart broke that day and parts of it I have never gotten back.  Heading into labor and delivery was surreal.  Feeling those contractions and pain were almost necessary.  I wanted to feel, I wanted to release that pain and feel it all.  Although when it came time to push I almost wanted to stop, to just go home and have things continue as is.  Delivering a baby who makes no noise, no movement is so heart wrenching.  It is not normal, nothing about that was OK.  The room was silent, there were tears and hugs and sobs, even from our dear doctor who had walked this journey with us.  Family visited, said goodbye to our sweet girl, and hugged, lots of hugs.  Handing our baby to the nurses and knowing that this was it, this life with her had ended, we would never hold her again or feel her move, that reality and hand off was a moment that will be forever etched in my mind and its one that gives me chills at times. No one knew what to say or do.  We were on a floor with crying babies and joyful families while we were in a quiet room with a very broken family.  That day, March 13, 2003 changed our lives in an instant.  Our carefree world changed in seconds and our young eyes were replaced with old eyes.  Eyes that had been through life and death and back again.  We aged that day and started our new “normal”.  A normal of living with a missing piece, a normal of living with daily loss, a normal of living with a daily roller coaster of emotions, a normal of clinging deeply with everything we had to our God knowing that He was all we had, and a normal of loving each other in a way we never knew possible, loving each other knowing we had been through the worst pain/experience possible. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9. Although her life is not a weakness, the grief and pain we continue to feel makes both Josh and I feel incredibly weak. It is only through His strength and power that we are able to be continually enveloped by our own grief daily and still be able to help others who are embarking on their own journey. Cicely Grace we loved you and continue to love you each day.  We long for the day when we will hold you again but until that day we pray we are honoring you and your life via Sweet Grace Ministries and beyond.

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15

 

full story
  • Katy Dortenzo
    President/Founder

    B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies (Penn State University, PA)

  • Elizabeth Willson
    Vice President

    B.S. in Occupational Therapy (Towson University, MD) M.S. In Applied Gerontology (Shippensburg University, PA)

  • Jennifer Schellhase
    Secretary

    B.S. in elementary education, B.A. in Psychology (Shippensburg University)

  • Jessica Tice
    Treasurer, CPA

    BA in Accounting, CPA (Franklin and Marshall College)

  • Mary Jill Landon
    Board Member

    BA in Psychology (DePauw University), M ED Early Childhood ED and Learning Support (Lesley College)

  • John Boozer
    Board Member

    B.S. in Biology (Penn State University, PA)

  • Melinda Ocker
    Board Member

    BA in Communications (Slippery Rock University), RDH, PHDHP, Certified School Hygienist (Allegany College of MD)

  • Jerri Martin
    Fundraising

    Psychology/Counseling & Youth Ministries (Evangel University & University of Valley Forge)

  • Kim Ghaner
    Sweet Grace Gown Coordinator

    Diagnostic Medical Sonography (South Hills School of Business and Technology)

  • Melissa Knouse
    JDA Coordinator and Founder of Jewelry Designs by Angels

    BA in Psychology (Millersville) Masters in Counseling (Shippensburg University)

  • Jenn Barnes
    Waynesboro Hospital Coordinator

    B.S. in Health Care Administration (Slippery Rock University)

  • Betsy Felix
    Hershey Hospital Coordinator

    B.S. in Elementary and Special Education (Millersville University)

  • Josh Dortenzo
    Chambersburg Hospital Coordinator

    B.A. in English (Penn State University, PA), PA Teaching Certification (Wilson College, PA)

  • Vanessa Kalbach
    Carlisle Hospital Coordinator

    B.S. in Nursing (Liberty University)

  • Jeremy Schmucker
    Schuylkill Hospital Coordinator

    B.A in Church Music (Pensacola Christian College) M.A. in Bible Exposition (Pensacola Theological Seminary) M.Div (Southwestern Theological Seminary)

  • Kristin Schmucker
    Schuylkill Hospital Coordinator

    B.A. in History (Pensacola Christian College) M.A. in Bible Exposition (Pensacola Theological Seminary)

  • Erin Rodgers
    Hanover and Gettysburg Hospital Coordinator

    B.A. in Social Work (West Chester University) Masters Degree in Educational Leadership (Immaculata University)

  • Nancy Winter
    Mt. Nittany Hospital Coordinator

  • Rachel Andricos
    York Hospital Coordinator

    BS in Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (Penn State University, PA)

  • Media Team
    Graphic Design Crew: Drew Kalbach, Ashley Aubin, and Mia Bucher

  • Kylene Wolfe
    Wellspan Good Samaritan Hospital Coordinator

  • Photography Team
    Dispatch: Lisa Sanders and Kylene Wolfe

    Training/Office: Lexi Fretz and Annisa Meyers