“I’m trying every day to get through the day,” she says.
Hailey, who was a 17-year-old student at Wharton High, went missing from her Arbor Greene home on March 28.
A Facebook page was launched, called “Find Hailey Acierno,” and hundreds of people joined. They shared encouragement, ideas and tips. They offered love and support to Hailey’s family in a time of uncertainty.
They also shared information about when searches for Hailey were being organized. Many even showed up to comb Flatwoods Park to look for her.
On April 7, Lisa’s worst fears came true. After those volunteers, law enforcement and other agencies had spent days searching, Hailey’s body was found.
The Facebook group’s name was changed to “In Memory of Hailey Acierno,” and those same members again offered encouragement, support and love.
They also asked, “What can we do?”
The number of people joining the page, reaching out to the family and offering to help continued to grow.
In her grief, Lisa began to dream of honoring Hailey by making a difference for those people who struggle with mental illness, as her daughter did.
“Let’s get rid of the stigma,” Lisa says. “During the search for Hailey, we were afraid of people’s opinions if we said what medications she was on, but that’s got to quit. People who are mentally ill didn’t do anything to choose this any more than someone with cancer or diabetes chooses those illnesses. They don’t want it.”
Lisa decided to start a foundation. She, her husband Chris, and adult sons Ryan and Josh make up the foundation’s board. They’ve applied for 501c3 status to be recognized as a registered nonprofit organization.
They reached out to the Facebook group to name the foundation, and they have changed the name once more. It’s now “Hailey’s Voice of Hope.”
Right now, Lisa says she doesn’t know exactly what her foundation intends to accomplish. She knows she wants to do something to act on the hundreds of offers of help that people continue to give her.
Lisa says changes are needed. For example, she says mental health services in our area aren’t available the way they should be.
“A perfect example was two years ago, when Hailey was being discharged from a residential program because insurance said she no longer needed to be there,” Lisa says. “They would pay for a partial outpatient program, but there isn’t one in Hillsborough County. She was basically kicked out of a residential facility and sent to something that didn’t exist.”
Volunteer Meeting Successful
Lisa organized a volunteer meeting, asking the supporters from her Facebook page — and the rest of the community — to show up for a town-hall type gathering on Saturday, August 12, at the Arbor Greene clubhouse off Cross Creek Blvd., giving everyone (even those who aren’t Arbor Greene residents) an opportunity to discuss how to raise money for the foundation, and what people can do to support needed mental health services in our community.
She’s thinking of starting a letter-writing campaign to the Florida legislature. With 3,500 members on the Facebook page, maybe one of those volunteers could craft a letter. If Lisa posts a request to the Hailey’s Voice of Hope Facebook page, she hopes that maybe 500 or 1,000 people would copy that letter and send it, and get some attention for the cause.
Or, maybe the foundation could organize something she calls “Hailey’s Ride,” to help families get their children to available services, which is sometimes impossible for working parents who would need to take hours off from work to leave, pick up their kids, take them where they need to go, drop them off back at home or school, and go back to work.
Lisa is thinking even bigger, too.
“My ultimate dream is ‘Hailey’s House,’” Lisa says. “Somewhere kids could go after school, not to focus on their problems, but how to help them — maybe through art or music therapy — so they are learning coping skills.”
While she knows it’s a really big goal and that it ultimately might not happen, she’s not afraid to dream it.
“I keep saying that MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was one started by one mad mother, the Susan G. Komen Foundation was started by one mad sister, and I’m a mad mom right now,” Lisa says. “It’s going to take a village to make this happen. It shouldn’t take something like this to get everyone’s attention. Hailey’s story was front page news because she was missing for so long, but there are so many families who are going through this who don’t get that kind of attention.”
She says that every day she wonders what more she could have done to help her daughter.
“Right now, we have a lot of support and so many people offering to volunteer,” Lisa says. “I just can’t sit back and do nothing.”
For more information about the foundation and its efforts, join the Facebook group, “Hailey’s Voice of Hope” or visit HaileysVoice.com.