On Christmas Eve, I had to run to the grocery store to pick up a few things. Consequently, I joined a hundred other last-minute shoppers who stood in long cashier lines, checking their phones, reading magazines and people-watching while they waited. I stood long enough to observe a five-minute scene that occurred a few feet from me, and because it was Christmas Eve or perhaps because it mirrored a piece of our future—one that sometimes overwhelms me—I smiled through tears. A young man with special needs was unpacking boxes, pulling gum and candy bars from inside and carefully arranging them on the shelves next to the check-out. He was quick and careful and cleaned up the boxes as he moved through his work. I didn’t even realize he had special needs until another employee—a nice-looking man maybe in his fifties—came over and started talking to him. The older man mumbled something near his ear and they both laughed and shared a fist bump.
“How ‘bout I take one of these boxes and help you out?” he offered. “I’ll start on the other end and meet you in the middle.”
The younger man smiled and agreed. Not but a minute later, another employee—a woman—came up and laid her arm on the young man. I admit, at this point I was completely sucked in and eaves-dropping.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” the young man answered.
“I saw you had your head in your hands earlier,” she went on, “—and I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. If you have a headache, you can go sit in the break room for a little while and then come back out and finish later.”
“I’m fine,” he replied.
She touched his arm gently and smiled. “No problem, just so you know that’s okay.”
I moved ahead in line, paid for my wine and plant and left, later regretting that I didn’t say something to those two employees—to simply let them know that, as a mom of a child with special needs, I appreciated how well they demonstrated inclusion in the workplace. They weren’t condescending, they weren’t impatient, they weren’t overly syrupy with praise or supervision. They were kind and supportive, valuing that young man’s contribution and friendship no different than any other employee would expect.
In two weeks, we will celebrate Nella’s fourth birthday.
I feel like we’re off the “Go” space on the board game now, away from the security of “just let me enjoy these first few years of no worries” and venturing into the next squares that lead to that curvy path of more unknowns. Unknown is not a scary word in itself though because, who knows, maybe what isn’t known are amazing things, good things, things we couldn’t have even imagined. There are new stories every day of individuals with Down syndrome going to college, getting married, finding meaningful employment and living independently. I do know that facing the unknown for the future of Down syndrome and walking this path of raising a child who is labeled as different is made so much more hopeful knowing that we’re not alone—that others join us in challenging stereotypes, demanding change and promoting inclusion and acceptance.
For the past four years, you all have been a been a big part of that, and there is no way I can express to you how grateful we are for your support. You’ve e-mailed your stories, you’ve shared how your perceptions of Down syndrome have changed, you’ve read and commented and supported our mission in so many ways. While I didn’t create this blog with the purposes of advocacy or fundraising, you’ve jumped in and followed along when we’ve taken that direction. Thank you. Thank you.
Throughout the past four years, we’ve designated Nella’s birthday as a time to give back. We’ve chosen the National Down Syndrome Society as the recipient of our fundraising efforts, and through Nella’s ONEder Fund, the 2 for 2 Fund, Nella’s Triple Crown and two t-shirt campaigns this year, you’ve helped us raise a total of $260,409 to benefit the over 400,000 individuals living with Down syndrome in the United States today. These funds allow the NDSS to provide Down syndrome education and support services for the general public, run the national Buddy Walk program which promotes community awareness, and continue efforts to shape and move forward a legislative agenda that will help individuals with Down syndrome live with economic independence.
This year, we’re celebrating Nella’s fourth year with the Pay It 4Ward celebration. To help us celebrate her birthday and the many other individuals with Down syndrome, please consider supporting the NDSS by donating to Pay It 4Ward. We’ve accomplished incredible feats with donations made from caramel macchiato sacrifices. We’re excited to do it again.
We know that dollars are important in funding programs and helping to provide support for families, but we also know that awareness goes beyond that. So many of you have shared ways in which you’ve changed your perceptions or stories of how you’ve gone back to your communities to promote acceptance, and I’d love to hear and learn more about things each of us can do in our communities—as simple as recognizing and applauding organizations that demonstrate inclusion in the workplace, as I wish I would have done in the grocery store that day.
Sure, these things should be happening naturally and continually in our society without recognition, but they aren’t happening enough. We need more voices and more support. What can you do? You can pledge to find a Buddy Walk this year. You can find out the name of the individual with Down syndrome who works at your coffee shop or grocery store and make it a point to talk to him every time you’re there. You can research to find a special needs support group in your area and volunteer your services, your gifts (photography, tutoring, etc.). Find events for adults with special needs, and get involved. Collaborate with leaders in your churches to create socialization opportunities that unite individuals of all needs. When you see inclusion taking place in education, in sports leagues, ballet classes, etc., let these organizations know you appreciate it! Especially if you don’t have a child with special needs. We are a feedback driven society. Inclusion will continue to happen, creating more opportunities for growth for all children, but not without our support and demand for it.
We’re asking you to share the ways you are promoting acceptance in your communities by using the hashtag #payingit4ward in social media and tag me (@etst on Instagram, @KelleHampton on Twitter) and @NDSS. Make others stop to think about this too. And teenagers! We need you! Your voices are powerful and loud–more than you know. Your friends are listening. Give them something to think about.
This little girl has brought so much joy to our home. We prepare for her future and excitedly join others in paving the road for all of our children’s tomorrow by making efforts today—speaking up, reaching out, spreading awareness, shouting from the rooftop that different is beautiful. It really is.
Thank you again for your support these past four years—for growing with us as we learn more about acceptance, challenges and most of all, love.
Help us Pay it 4Ward to celebrate these four years. We’ve come a long way—from a dark room in a hospital where we didn’t know how to begin to this celebratory, thankful place…full of hope.
Click on any of the photos in this post to be directed to Pay It 4Ward.