Four years ago, I made my first trip with Ruby’s Rainbow to visit two students with Down syndrome who were attending college. Liz and I had met online, talked on the phone briefly and arranged a trip together so she could show me what her little organization was doing–providing post secondary education scholarships to people with Down syndrome who were changing the course of their lives by pursuing more than had ever been offered to them before. More education, more opportunity. The idea of someone with Down syndrome going to college was new to me, and I wanted to see what it looked like before I brought it to you all to ask for help in supporting it.
One of the students we visited on that first trip to Western Carolina University was Ali Hale, and I’ll never forget walking in her dorm and meeting her for the first time–seeing photos of her family framed on her desk, watching her tap away on her computer just like any other student and noticing the newspaper article she had taped to her dorm wall, with her photo on it and the headline–“Dreams Coming True for Hickory Youth.” Her hometown newspaper covered the story of her path to college and knew, like I did, that the story of a person with Down syndrome going to college was special–out of the ordinary–headline worthy.
The goal of Ruby’s Rainbow is to take the headlines away–to make the opportunity of college more accessible, more normal, more possible for more individuals with Down syndrome so that pursuing higher education isn’t extraordinary. I’ve been so lucky to work alongside this organization, visit colleges that are offering programs to people with intellectual disabilities, talk to families and students, watch Liz as she works every day to raise money and support these individuals as they make a better life and see first hand the benefits that more education yields for our friends with Down syndrome who want what everybody else wants–independence and the opportunity for fulfilling work.
At the beginning of the school year this year, Liz and I went back to North Carolina to visit Ali again and see what life is like after college.
Like any other graduate, building a life of independence is complicated and not without challenges. And while Ali is fortunate to have fulfilling jobs and a home she shares with a roommate, she still receives support in some areas.
We wanted to see all of it–to hear the challenges, to understand the hard work behind Ali’s success and to show you all that comes together to create stories like Ali’s. I’ve watched this film five times now, and I cry at the end every time.
Once a year, I ask you to join me, and I’m here again today extending an invitation to be part of this story–to help create more opportunities like the ones Ali’s been given for more individuals. March 21 is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day, and our goal is to make this year the best year ever for Ruby’s Rainbow so they can send more students like Ali to college. We have two weeks, and all we ask is that you take the 3-21 Pledge to help us celebrate.
Here’s how the 3-21 Pledge works.
1. Click here to make a $21 pledge.
2. Pledge to be kind and considerate to people of all abilities (You got this one!).
3. Share your pledge with 3 people (or more!) and ask them to do the same.
The 3-21 Pledge visually tracks your donation and people who donate from your link, so you can see exactly how much your pledge grows, a true testament to the fact that one person can make a huge difference. Social media creates wonderful momentum for missions like Ruby’s Rainbow and the 3-21 Pledge, and they can’t make this happen without you. Make it personal–tell your friends why it matters.
Since Nella was born, this online community has been so gracious and wonderful in supporting our mission to help people with Down syndrome, and I can’t begin to tell you what that means. It takes a village, and we are so grateful that you all are a part of ours.