Everybody Plays 2013

Well, goodness.  I don’t really know where to begin because it’s been a whirlwind week, and there are so many things I’d love to share. 

This is the third year I’ve participated in Everybody Plays with Infantino and Step 2, and the experience is now part of me.  I learn something new and am changed a little more each year.  My cousin Joann came to San Diego with me to help with Dash, and after attending the shoot on the second day, she said, “I guess you really have to be here to understand just how meaningful this is.” 

For those of you who are new here, Everybody Plays is a marketing campaign created by a mama within the Infantino company and carried out by a number of incredible individuals.  Infantino and Step 2 have committed to recognizing that every child is unique and special, and they celebrate that fact in their marketing which includes photos of children of all abilities.  Simply put, Everybody Plays.  I’ve been honored to photograph this 2-day event every year since it began and, in doing so, have met some extraordinary families. 

If you were part of the shoot this year, I want to tell you how special it was meeting you and your children–all of you.  We had a tight schedule and lots of babies to attend to, but I remember your hugs and your stories and your children.  I saw the pride in your eyes, I felt how much you love them.  I watched you soothe them and kiss them and work hard to make sure your babies were comfortable and aware of your presence.  Some of you worked so hard, and I realize that’s a 24-hour job for you.  But you don’t ever quit, do you?  You don’t ever quit working hard and singing to them and holding them and hoping for them and fighting to change the world for them.  I felt your dedication, I witnessed your love.  That goes for all of you, whether you were a part of this event or not.  Whether your child has a disability or not.  We’re all working hard for our kids, and we need each other–our kids need each other.

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And speaking of those kids?  They were amazing.  It’s crazy how much preparation goes into an event like this–months of scheduling, permits, wardrobe, equipment, toy hauling, set-up, etc.  But then the kids come in, and it’s obvious to anyone present that they become the focus simply because they naturally steer our attention to what matters most.  Like smiling.  And making people happy. 

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On the last night after the shoot, a few of us gathered to wrap things up and say goodbye before we left the next morning.  We sat at a picnic table under twinkly lights and surrounded by happy chaos–kids running everywhere, huddles of conversation, stories from the week enthusiastically retold.  I sat at one corner of our table, smiling, trying my best to eavesdrop on as many conversations as I could pick up.  It was like air traffic control for happy thoughts. 

I asked a few moms what this event meant to them.  Jennifer, whose little Joaquin and Sophia participated in Everybody Plays, hesitated for just a moment. “I think it’s a perfect example of everything we fight for as parents,” she answered. “We just want our kid to be a kid. Everybody Plays is such a perfect way of explaining it. It’s so simple. They’re all perfect. They all belong together.”

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“What was your favorite moment?” I asked Beth, Coco’s mom.

“Tonight,” she quickly replied and smiled. “That last shoot. When Coco wrapped her arms around every other kid…”

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“That’s what this is. Everybody plays. And you know what’s funny? Coco in that shoot is really the only one who looks different. And here she is, pulling everyone together. I don’t want the people who see these images to say, ‘Look at that little girl with Down syndrome.’ I want them to breeze by and look the same way at her that they’d look at any little girl.”

I should add that Coco finished her last round of chemotherapy earlier this year, and after this baby’s tough year fighting leukemia, her smile was worth every bit of work that went into last week.

Read another mom’s account of last week here.

Of course there is extra significance behind this event for families who face challenges with their child’s abilities being recognized. But every child has special needs, and this campaign is just as important for any family as it is for ours. When marketing embraces and celebrates the fact that people are different and that’s beautiful, our children will believe it. 

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This team right here? 

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They have huge hearts. They worked really hard last week, most of them sacrificing time with their families to make Everybody Plays a success. They love kids, and they believe in the heart of this project.  As a team member, that makes me proud.  As a mom, that makes me grateful.

I wish I could show you every photo right now. There are still so many I need to go through, and many of them feature products that are still in development, so I can’t share.

A few (all photos taken in San Diego’s gorgeous Balboa Park):

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And a quick wrap-up video of last week:

Everybody plays from ETST on Vimeo.

Please join me in supporting these companies (and others like it!)–let them know you love what they are doing!  Help us spread the message of Everybody Plays–for all of our children. 


I didn’t have time to update the blog while I was gone, so a few things from last week:

*The Be Your Tee Campaign ends tonight (Monday). You can buy t-shirts for a few more hours. We originally set a goal of selling 626 shirts that would raise $5,000 for the NDSS. You helped us surpass that. Ready? We sold over 1,900 shirts–that’s $15,000 raised for the National Down Syndrome Society. Nice way to kick off Down Syndrome Awareness Month, eh?

Also, I put together a list of my favorite dolls for little girls (and boys!) over at BabyZone: 12 Adorable Baby Dolls for Imaginative Play.

And sharing about the importance of telling our children the stories of our past over at All Parenting: The stories of our past.

Whew.  Okay.  Tomorrow is October.  Hope the pumpkin spice gods have some good things in store for all of us.


Leave a Comment
  1. Well done, Kelle. There is so much beauty in your photos, it is almost heart wrenching.
    When my girl was little, the only catalogue that photographed kids of all types was Toys R Us. I loved that catalogue. It meant so much to me to know that my child didn’t need anything “special” to play with.
    Keep spreading the word, girl. You’re doing great!

  2. No words! Thank you, thank you! This post has reduced me to a blubbering mess. What an honor to meet you, be a part, and occupy a small space in today’s post. (The fourth paragraph is what got the tears going, btw). XOXOXO Matthew’s mama (aka Katrina)

  3. Oh, I also meant to add that Matthew and Coco were the first two to arrive on Wednesday morning, she immediately went over to him and started petting him. It was adorable. I was struck by how she didn’t see what was different about him, either. They were just two kids hanging out, taking in the scene. Beautiful.

  4. Oh, such beauty and love! We all need each other, and our kids all need each other. Thank you for this beautiful message! xo

  5. I’m crying all over again. It was magical to be a part of this photo shoot last week. I am still in awe of your passion, your talent, your caring heart, the way you capture the precious moments. Thank you for being a part of this for the third year.

  6. How can one become a part of Everyone Plays?

  7. Thank you again Kelle and everyone on the Infantino and Step 2 team. We had a great time and Leila and I look forward to seeing all her new friends playing together. We blogged about our whirlwind experience here: http://ambitiousviolet.typepad.com/blog/2013/09/hello-san-diego.html


  8. Just ordered my “Teach me to soar…” tee shirt. For granddaughter, Lauren. She is so special to me and very challenged. Lots of diagnoses this year…the latest is APD (Auditory Processing Disorder). Just want her to feel terrific about herself. She is 10. She is unique, for sure. We think she might grow up to be a hostage negotiator. Or a day care worker. Not sure, yet.

  9. The pictures are beautiful. It puts a new perspective of the pictures when you get to meet these wonderful children in person. We had so much fun at the event. I asked my daughter after it was over if she had fun. She replied,” Mom, I got to play with new friends and draw. It was beautiful.”
    -the red-headed family

  10. I don’t know why I’m crying, but I am. I thought it would be fun to be part of this shoot–for my son to be part of it, but I found it to be so much more. I have been thinking about it a lot and I feel like we’re so lucky that he was chosen to participate. I’m hoping other parents of kids with his disability will spot him and be proud that he is representing kids with hemiplegia, cortical dysplasia, and/or CP. Thank you Infantino, Step 2, and Kelle for a fun 2 hours at Balboa. We met some great kids and moms on set! Fun memories! ~Kammy and Curtis :)

  11. I love these pictures, all the kids look so happy, coco and grace look so beautiful. When i look at them, i see my daughter:) <3

  12. I love these pictures, all the kids look so happy, coco and grace look so beautiful. When i look at them, i see my daughter:) <3

  13. GORGEOUS! Are you familiar with Positive Exposure at http://www.positiveexposure.org?

    Run by a former NY fashion photographer who now travels the world taking photos of children who look different (due to genetic syndromes and other differences). He is redefining what beauty means, and this is very in line with this campaign.

  14. So heartwarming. I hope that you can share more photos. How exciting to be a part of this important message.

  15. This is, seriously, so amazing. I am honoured just to read about how these mamas shared their children with the world. I can’t imagine actually being a part of such a love-filled celebration of the best thing in life – kids!
    Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s like seeing “PURE JOY”
    …Just Thanks

  16. This looks like an amazing event for everyone involved. I have no doubt that every single child and family there felt special and deserved to be there. And I’m glad they have you there to photograph and witness this on a personal level, which then is shared with us.

    I have a beef though. It’s not going to be popular to say and I hesitate to be the squeaky wheel, rable-rouser or what have you, but I have to say it. I was really, really disappointed to see that while all of these children have differences of one kind or another–in my opinion, this was not a good representation of “all abilities.” This isn’t directed at you personally Kelle as I know you weren’t part of the selection process, but as you mentioned in one photo the only child you could tell who had disabilities was Coco, who had Down Syndrome. I know there were others, but again mostly children with DS. Where were the kids with much more obvious physical limitations/differences? Limb differences, muscular dystrophy, power/wheel chairs, etc.

    Maybe it seems strange that I would like to see kids who have visible differences (beyond Down Syndrome because if there is any difference in the media that is well represented it’s DS) but as a mom whose child has very obvious limb differences I can tell you that overcoming her physical disabilities plays a distant second fiddle to having to overcome the fact that she looks so different and it is the first thing noticed by other kids, adults and everyone in between. To me it says something that Infantino didn’t include kids whose differences ARE noticeable. They want to showcase children who are different, just not too different.

    Additionally the slogan “everybody plays” seems more appropriate when considered in terms of children who actually have physical limitations to work around. I have never questioned whether or not a child who has DS has the ability to play. I DID however, question my own daughter’s ability to play when she was first born. Now I know that despite serious physical limitations, of course she plays! Yet many people still ask me How does she play? What can she do? How amazing/educational/eye-opening would it have been to see a child who doesn’t have hands playing with her feet, or a child in a wheel/power chair catching a ball? Having more children with these type of disabilities featured in the media can help break down the barriers of ignorance and exclusion.

    If I sound angry, I’m not…just disappointed. I’m not sure if Infantino’s choice on this was purposeful or not. Even if it was purposeful–like they just don’t think media is ready for kids with such noticeable differences–I don’t think they’re bad people who did a bad thing. I can tell everyone who participate was truly touched, and that there were positive feelings all around. Again, I think that every family who participated absolutely deserved to be there.

    I just hope that in the future they really will try to feature children of ALL abilities.

  17. Beautiful! What a positive experience for all involved.

  18. Kelle,
    It was an honor to meet you and have Oliver participate in this amazing event. I will always carry this experience in a tight, special place in my heart and mind. <3

  19. I agree with Miggy above, would have loved to see more kids with obvious differences, kids with AFO’s, or O2 tubes, or walkers etc. My kid has GDD of unknown origin but we get asked all the time by other kids, what are those things on his legs etc etc.I also agree with miggy above that when your child has physical limitations its much harder to adapt a play area etc for them and the general public dont realise they also love to play ball etc etc it just looks different and takes a little more creative thought.

  20. Is there any way to still purchase a T shirt? I would love to purchase one if there’s still a way to do that.

  21. I know that you said somewhere that you were just used to taking pics of your family and kids lately, but I think you hit this one out of the park. What a talent you have! I can always count on some eye candy from your posts!

  22. Thank you, Kelle! Apollo and I had a great time at the shoot. What you (and Infantino/Step 2) are doing is fabulous. So happy to be a small part of it. I blogged about our day here: http://bakersdozenandapolloxiv.com/2013/10/01/everybody-plays-2013-step-2/

  23. Miggie…
    We were there! My son Jude (age 4) has Spina Bifida and was adopted from Haiti. Jude uses a walker, has AFOs, hydrocephalus, club feet, and more! Jude also has horrible asthma and after being on major steroids and traveling the day before for many hours to get to San Diego. Jude decided he didn’t want his picture taken. (So sad.)
    I completely understand what your saying but I do believe the campaign represents all different kinds of abilities!

  24. I look forward to this post each year. The sheer beauty is overwhelming. The joy, the love, the heart shines through each picture, each child’s eyes.

  25. Beautiful video. Thank you, again, for showing the world that all we need is love.

    – Erin

  26. Momto 16–I’m glad you were there! That’s one. :) In my opinion it was still far too unbalanced in its representation of ‘all abilities.’

  27. It is wonderful that you had a “special” day for these little angels. Seems like they had a great time with your love and the kids toys that you arraged for them to play

  28. The most powerful line of the whole post? This one: “But every child has special needs…”

  29. Kellie,

    Thank you so much for posting this blog about this wonderful day. It was such a pleasure being a part of this EXTRAordinary day. As a Mom, as a Registered Nurse and Human Being I love the representation of all children being included.
    While children of varying abilities were represented, I didn’t notice what was “different” about all the children involved all I noticed was the gift these children are to our world.
    My prayer is that others will see them as children first and always.
    Thank you and Infantino/Step 2 for this experience.

    Lee Ellis’ Mom

  30. Kelle, I was watching the TV show Good Luck Charlie (on Disney) last night and noticed something I thought fit perfect in this discussion and that would make you smile. It was the Halloween episode and the main trick-o-treater that they showed was an adorable little girl who just happened to have Down Syndrome. But that wasn’t part of the show. She was playing a part just like anyone, delivering some funny lines and being a great little actress. I couldn’t help but share :)

  31. I LOVE this ad campaign. “Everybody plays!” Love it. Great pictures. I will buy from these companies. I love the art easel.

  32. In tears up in here! Seeing sweet Coco & Joaquin & Sofia in such big, beautiful technicolor brings tears to my eyes. Funny how “knowing” people in the online world still feels like ‘oh man, those are my friends’ kids!’ and my heart is warmed & my spirit is on fire with pride & joy. Thanks for all of your honest posts lately, mama! I’ve missed keeping up with them all & I’m sure grateful I read back to this one. Your heart shines as lovely as ever. (thank you.) xoxo

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