31 Stories: A Community of Diversity

It’s October 31st. Tomorrow we turn the page to November. Another Down Syndrome Awareness Month is “in the books,” as my grandfather used to say. What an October we had as a community! In addition to an extraordinary celebration at the Baltimore Buddy Walk, as a group we completed the 31 for 21 Challenge.  



A couple of months ago when CDSPG President Courtney Dunevant suggested to the board that we commit to publishing 31 blog posts about the diverse experiences of our Down syndrome community, we didn’t really know how it would turn out. Would we generate enough interest among writers? Among readers? We didn’t know how many deeply personal stories we would be privileged to read. How much we would learn about each other. How often we would recognize bits and pieces of our own stories in the experiences of others. How diverse and complicated the lives of our families and the individual lives of those with Down syndrome who are the beating heart of our community are. 

Thank you to each of the writer’s and their families, for educating the public about the richness and diversity of our Down syndrome community and for extending a hand through your words to other families and individuals who may have felt alone in their journey and now know they are treading shared paths. Self-advocates, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, educators, therapists, and community leaders – their stories have demonstrated exactly what Tricia so beautifully wrote in her October 1st kick-off post: “Difference is not a bad thing. Difference is what pushes us. It’s how we grow. Isn’t difference what makes our world so interesting? Different isn’t bad. It’s just different.” 

CDSPG is honored to have provided a platform for these stories – and we want to continue to offer this opportunity for our community members to share their stories, to talk about the experiences we share and the differences that help us grow and keep things interesting. All of us – every single one – has a story to share. If you are interested in writing a post for the CDSPG blog, send it along and we will post as many as we can. Send your piece, plus a photo or two and a short bio (one or two sentences “about the author”) to info@cdspg.org

Here’s a list of the month’s blog posts in case you missed any with links and a few special quotes: 

10/1: A Little Different, and That’s Okay – Tricia Theis Rogalski 

“Early on I began thinking of the impact we could make if we put our voices together in a concerted effort to reach (and teach) more broadly.” 

10/2: Living the American Dream - Yvonne Hu-Cotto 

“I then realized that this is the American Dream: to create something out of nothing. I realized that sometimes the opportunities are not to be sought; they are to be created.” 

10/3: Lifting Each Other Up Around the World – Stephanie Meredith  

“Even sitting at home on your computer, you can make a difference for someone who may be feeling alone and isolated and looking for resources.” 

10/4: My WONDER-ful Vacation – Sean 

“This is just the first of many videos Sean will create as he continues to develop his skills for his future career.” 

10/5: Thank You, God, for Sharing This Gift With Us – The Zapata Family 

“We will never quantify the quality of our lives based on dots on the bell curve. We will continue to support her and her efforts in life. We say the best has yet to come. “ 

10/6: The Two Gabbys – Michelle Douglas 

“I’d love more people to look at the world through Gabby Douglas’s eyes, where color is of no matter, looks aren’t an issue, economics are not a factor. She sees the qualities of people.” 

10/7: A Life Worth Living – Astri Doub 

“You may not be happy about your amount of independence, your job, your living situation, but if you can have that moment where you can't help but smile I believe you have achieved a life worth living.” 

10/8: My Voice Matters – Imani-Angela Rose 

“I will never say what my son cannot do. He just showed me that as his mom I could have been the first to handicap him.” 

10/9: A Child Care Provider’s View – Nikya Green 

“It is important to treat everyone with dignity, respect, and advance their abilities to do great and wonderful things for years to come.” 

10/10: A Special Educator’s Story – Cheryl Hall 

“I was determined that I was going to teach the teachers and the other people in my parish how to work with our children who learn differently.” 

10/11: Community and Shelter From the Storm – Liz Zogby 

“The community I thought would run in fear from us because we represented the embodiment of their worst nightmares turned out to be so much braver and bigger-hearted than that.” 

10/12: The Best School We Can Imagine Includes Amara – Bobbi Macdonald 

“What kind of school would we be, if Amara couldn’t belong with us? Amara and her family belong with us and we belong with them.” 

10/13: Coming Home – Troy Remick 

“In the same way his brothers and sister are welcomed, taught and recognized so, too, will Tobin be as a student at St. Louis. I want him to know the same sense of friendship and being home that our family feels at our school and church.” 

10/14: Off-Campus Housing – Corliss White 

“Tucker has taught me patience and tolerance and acceptance. And the meaning of unconditional love. I have used this patience and understanding when dealing with others, both those with and without special needs.” 

10/15: Finding Our Way Down the Path – Erin Werking 

“The words staring back at me said, ‘Prepare the child for the path … Not the path for the child.’ I read it over and over and over again. Prepare him. Prepare HIM. On that gift shop coaster I had found my parenting mantra.” 

10/16: Kisses and Raspberries to You, Girlfriend! – DeDe Orthoff 

“She’s bold, stubborn, adorable, and full of joy. Her opinions are firm, her smile is warm, and her friendship is worth working for. I looked forward to every Sunday morning that I could spend with Natalie.” 

10/17: My Brother, My Sister – Alex Willard 

“Because Grace and Andrew are my siblings, I’ve learned that happiness, competence, and success can take many forms. However, finding this in anyone takes time, an open mind and the willingness to adopt new values.” 

10/18: More of a Family Than a Clinic – Mina Goodman 

“We’ve trained generations of clinicians who leave this placement recognizing that working with the whole family is tantamount to speech and language intervention. You, as parents, know your children best and must be part of the treatment process. In addition, our clinicians have learned that they are treating individuals, not a diagnosis.” 

10/19: Difference Makes a Difference – Courtney Dunevant 

“Six years ago, I didn't pay much attention to Down syndrome. I didn't know anyone with Down syndrome. I don't think I knew anyone who knew someone with Down syndrome. I had no connection whatsoever. It's amazing what can happen in six years.” 

10/20: Charlie’s World – Charlie 

“I am an outgoing guy and I never forget a person’s name after I meet them. I like sports a lot. I work hard in school. I like to be busy and get things accomplished. And I like to help other people. I hope you enjoy my photo blog!” 

10/21: It’s Twins! It’s Mosaic Down Syndrome! – Sarah Hug 

“People wonder, I wonder, what mosaicism means for Lily as she grows older? Where will she fall in the spectrum of abilities? I don’t know. Then again, I don’t know where my two typical boys will fall either.” 

10/22: He Only Sees His Brother – Laura Feiler 

“And then it happened. Joey just saw his brother, not a diagnosis. He loved on him, kissed on him, smiled at him. Was in awe of him. He showed me how to see our son.” 

10/23: The Beauty of the Moment – Ariel Dehogues 

“Seeing the beauty in being different. That’s what we all strive for -- others to be able to see the beauty in our differences. I see the beauty in my daughter Liliana, 18 months old, born with Down syndrome.” 

10/24: A Child Is Waiting – Erin 

“They sent us more information about him – including a list of health issues and medical concerns. The list would scare many people away – but God had grown a love for him in our hearts. We knew that this boy was meant to be our son and that together we were called to be a family.” 

10/25: They Called Us Mom and Dad – Rich and Dani Gardner 

“They thanked us profusely for adopting Sarah and commented about what a blessing we were to her. What they didn’t realize is that Sarah was the blessing. We’d waited and wished and prayed so long for her, and she was finally here. We felt complete for the first time in years.” 

10/26: She Reads My Mind – Lori 

“It was Colleen’s way of telling me it was okay. She’s happy going to school. She has friends in her class. The kids in her school know her, even if she doesn’t know all of them.” 

10/27: I Love Who I Am, And I Love My Life – Melissa Silverman 

“My name is Melissa Silverman and I am 34 years old. Through the years, I have been involved with many different programs…” 

10/28: Laura Lee: The Legacy She Left Behind – Yvonne Hu-Cotto 

“Later in life, she was one of the first students to attend the George Mason LIFE program, the first of postsecondary education programs for people with ID to run in the country. Through her words and actions, she changed people’s mind about what people with ID can achieve.” 

10/29: Her Accomplishments Have Inspired Mine – Brian 

“My interest in Buddy Walks began when I attended them in South Florida, where my mother lives. I was blown away by the size of these events and the power they had. When Baltimore finally became an authorized area to host Buddy Walks, I knew I wanted to be a part of organizing them.” 

10/30: Joyous Recognition: A Lesson From My Father – Rob 

“I don't remember ever being explicitly taught ‘acceptance’ or ‘awareness’ for difference, or for people with disabilities, but I do remember understanding pretty early on that there just wasn't any other way to be.” 

10/31: We did it! Thanks for being a part of this project as readers and writers. We look forward to sharing more stories in the months to come.  


Bio: Liz Zogby is a member of the CDSPG board of directors and has edited the 31 for 21 Challenge for the CDSPG blog. She lives in Baltimore City with her husband Greg and three children, Celia (14), Quinn (11), and Hope (6).