Meet Our Founder
Elizabeth Elder grew up in Memorial and moved home to Houston in 2013 after living and working in New York, Dallas, and Shreveport. She and her husband James welcomed their daughter Annabelle in 2010, and Annabelle started showing early signs of developmental delays, which Elizabeth and James believed were due to an undeveloped larynx that would self-correct by the age of one. Fourteen months later, Blair was born and Annabelle was still as much of a newborn developmentally as her little brother. Soon it became apparent that Blair was also missing milestones, and there must be a greater genetic condition causing both Annabelle and Blair to require medical intervention. For years there were hundreds of doctor visits, therapy sessions, and Google searches, but no answers. The best thing they had was hope.
In 2015, Annabelle and Blair were diagnosed with Leigh Syndrome, a neurodegenerative disease. Finally with an answer, they knew where to focus their efforts. And, with the mutated gene LIPT1 identified, Elizabeth and James were able to have a third child through IVF and genetic embryonic testing.
Their youngest child Clark was born in 2017 and for the next four years, life was good. Steel Magnolia Moms was growing, Annabelle and Blair were enrolled in and responding well to a trial treatment drug, Clark was keeping everyone entertained, Elizabeth and James had hit their stride in adulting. Then on October 6, 2021, Annabelle, gained her angel wings due to complications of Leigh Syndrome. She had just turned eleven.
Although her life was entirely too short, it was fully lived with purpose. Annabelle inspired Steel Magnolia Moms with her love and light. Elizabeth is dedicated to growing Steel Magnolia Moms so all moms of children with special needs feel that love and see the light, knowing they are not alone.
Steel Magnolia Moms got its start in Spring 2016 in a nail salon. Founder Elizabeth Elder overheard two moms exchanging planning tips for Disney World and one mom made a joke about using a wheelchair to cut the lines rather than paying for a tour guide. As a mom with two children who can’t walk and rely on assistive equipment like wheelchairs, Elizabeth was speechless. She glanced up and made eye contact with this Disney Mom but couldn’t find the right words to kindly tell this woman all that was wrong with her comment. Disappointed that she didn’t think fast enough to “enlighten” the woman, Elizabeth took to social media and wrote a post on a neighborhood Facebook group page, Memorial Information and Trading. By the time her toenails were dry, she found the words to reach nearly 8,000 people in her community, including the Disney Mom:
“I just overheard a conversation between two moms about Disney planning tips at First Boutique Nails. As an alternative to paying a guide for quick access, one asked if she could just put her son in a wheelchair or if you'd have to be handicapped for that. She then joked that maybe she could "rent one for the day." I was so stunned I couldn't say anything. Now with my heart pounding, I wish I spoke up on behalf of my children and every other person with a disability. So if that was you, here is your teachable moment: You don't "rent" a person. Certainly not for your gain and especially not so your kids can jump on rides faster. I have two kids with special needs, including a daughter with a wheelchair. Your kids are lucky to have legs strong enough to wait in line. I could go on, but think I've made my point... remember to be kind. Disabilities are not humorous. They are not convenient, and they most certainly are not to be used for your convenience!”
Response from the community came pouring in. The support was overwhelming and positive, but it came with a surprise. Many could relate because they too had a child with special needs. The next day, Elizabeth wrote this post and Steel Magnolia Moms was born:
“A beautiful thing happened yesterday. I wrote a post about ignorance and discrimination and from that we heard the heart of our community. For me personally, it was a huge step in my journey as a special needs mom. Not only did I gain further acceptance of our situation by addressing it on a public (yet intimate) forum, but even better, I found so many more mommas out there on the same rocky road with gorgeous views! In fact, of the 66 people that posted, 19 of us have children with special needs (that’s nearly 30%)! So, I am creating a new group: Memorial Area Steel Magnolias (Special Moms). A Steel Magnolia is a strong woman who is soft and feminine with uncommon fortitude. My oldest sister, Sarah, has called me her Steel Magnolia ever since we knew my daughter had challenges. Every time she calls me that, I feel my heart open and spine straighten. I’d like to invite all you other Steel Magnolias out there to join me in this special group (no pun intended) where we can positively relate to and support each other. Thank you ALL for your kind words of encouragement and support. You have given me renewed strength and a proud sense of duty to show more positive experiences with disabled people. To celebrate, this weekend I’m going to take Annabelle to lunch in her new wheelchair for the first time!”