Heather Erickson (left) and Missy Bass of Hills want families experiencing life-changing events to reach out to their nonprofit organization, Game Plan 4 Hope, for help. Samson, Trenton Bass’ therapy dog in training, assists in spreading the organization’s message.

'Game Plan 4 Hope'

Hills families reach out to support others experiencing hardship

Two Hills families are attempting to bring hope to people experiencing life-changing hardships.

Jeff and Missy Bass started the nonprofit, “Game Plan 4 Hope,” in September and were later joined by longtime friends Aaron and Heather Erickson.

Their sons, Trenton Bass and Ethan Erickson, both experienced life-changing hardships — a paralyzing football injury for Trenton in 2017 and a battle with cancer that took Ethan’s life in October.

Game Plan 4 Hope is using these experiences to help other families who are dealing with tragedy.

“Our common goal is that we were the recipients of hope and love, so we want to reach out and help families the same way,” Missy said.

“For me our hope came from all the prayers and our faith.”

The Basses began paperwork for the nonprofit in September, later giving it a sports-themed name in honor of Trenton’s love for football, which also fits Ethan and his love of sports.

A website, www.gameplan4hope.org, launched in December, prominently features the boys’ health journeys.

“Our stories are so unique and different but at the core — what’s really meaningful for us — is to give the gift of hope,” Heather said.

Both families admit they felt the overwhelming support and concern from the region while they sat in the hospital.

Nursing staff often remarked on how lucky they were, because many families sit in isolation as they face the endless hours of waiting and praying for miracles.

Game Plan 4 Hope attempts to duplicate a caring community in much the same way the Bass and Erickson families experienced as each waited for their own miracles to happen.

The Ericksons said random acts of kindness meant the most.

The appearance of gift cards, holiday presents and special activities provided Ethan a welcome respite between cancer treatments.

Heather fondly remembers one act of kindness days before Ethan’s Oct. 13 death at age 12.

A livestock trough was set up at the hospital and with a pole in hand Ethan fished for bass, played with George the Therapy Dog and ended the happy day eating pizza with his family.

“There were several things … that really touched us or touched Ethan that wasn’t so much as met our needs — just people bringing random things around,” Heather said.

In the spirit of offering comfort, Game Plan 4 Hope would also organize random acts of kindness in Ethan’s memory.

“He was always worried about other people and how they were feeling and what he can do to brighten their day,” Heather said. “It was something he wanted to try to do in his future.”

Ethan’s positive legacy will be shared with each gift card, comfort kit, gift bag and special holiday delivery through Game Plan 4 Hope.

The Bass family also experienced hope and random acts of kindness after Trenton’s Sept. 8, 2017, accident on the football field.

Trenton’s paralysis brought donations of medical equipment to the family along with outreaches of directional, spiritual and emotional support.

“Paralysis, until they come up with a cure for it, is a lifelong thing,” Missy said. “You have to think about so many different things. When it happens to you, you’re so lost.”

They found a path through others who shared insurance options, potential treatments and equipment that will allow Trenton to live life as independently as possible.

However, spreading their message of Game Plan 4 Hope has proven challenging.

Data privacy prevents hospitals from releasing patient names so Missy and Heather have turned to connecting with caseworkers, staff and other families they met while in the hospital.

Their efforts have prompted some referrals but they hope for more.

An 18-month-old Bernese mountain dog named Samson, Trenton’s service dog in training, is helping Missy spread Game Plan 4 Hope’s message.

“He’s a good attention-getter and kind of a segue into talking to people,” she said.

With Samson as a distraction, Missy talks to families about equipment that helped Trenton’s recovery and is available through Game Plan 4 Hope.

Trenton himself is a spokesperson for the group, visiting with patients recovering from spinal cord injuries, sharing his path to independence.

Trenton, a sophomore at South Dakota State University in Brookings epitomizes Game Plan 4 Hope’s messages of positivity and perseverance.

“Life is not easy for him,” Missy said. “He has no use of his hands and that makes everything a challenge.”

However, within months of his injury, Trenton returned to Hills-Beaver Creek High School to graduate with his classmates, and he spent the summer in rehabilitation in order to attend SDSU in the fall.

He continues to work toward his pre-injury goal of becoming a mechanical engineer.

“He could just say, ‘I want to sit around doing nothing because I cannot do anything,’ but he’s never had that attitude,” Missy said.

Hope is what Ethan Erickson lived with during his 18-month cancer battle, and Trenton Bass embraced the hope that positive thinking can accomplish.

Game Plan 4 Hope bridges the gap between despair and hope.

“No matter what your journey or your outcome, there are different miracles that come so many different ways,” Heather said.

Referrals and donations can be made through www.gameplan4hope.org.

The seven-member board of directors meets monthly.

In addition to Jeff and Missy Bass, Heather Erickson joins board members Tim Plimpton, Andrea Parliament, Denise Wysong and Blake Wysong.

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