I made my entrance into the world on March 19, 1989. My mom and dad already had their hands full with my brother who was almost three. After a typical pregnancy and delivery, my parents were surprised when I was born with Down Syndrome.
Acting on the suggestion of a hospital social worker, my parents contacted the Association for Children with Down Syndrome (ACDS) which is known for the excellent support it offers to children and families from preschool to adulthood. ACDS had an Early Intervention/Preschool Program for infants that specialized in educating infants with Down Syndrome on Long Island. Those early services and the continuing support of ACDS has been an invaluable resource to both me and my parents. My mother and I joined our first infant class at ACDS when I was six weeks old! The class helped me to learn to do things that typical infants pick up on their own: sit, crawl, feed myself and use sign language to make my needs and wants known. Signing helped me to reach out to the world and communicate before I could form words and sentences. I loved to sign and to share my message with others. My mom and I would go on Outreach Talks to local schools and organizations to spread the word about Down Syndrome!
I started kindergarten in my home school district. Four other children and I piloted the first inclusion class in the South Huntington, NY School District. Today, integrated classes are an educational right, but we were the first in our district to attend classes with our typical peers. In the seventh grade, the academic demands became too challenging for me, so I was taught in smaller classes.
During my school years, I became involved in Special Olympics swimming, gymnastics and horseback riding and I had a great time competing with my friends. When I was still quite young, I started dancing. I had a wonderful dance teacher who taught me so much. Later on, I joined another dance company and began competing in dance competitions with my typical peers. It was so exciting to be on stage and I won many awards. I also performed in multiple musical theater productions through Saint Hugh Productions at my local church.
I graduated from high school in 2007, with my class, but continued my education with my school district until I was 21, because some students who receive special education can remain in school until they are 21 years old. I took elective classes at my high school, and took part in programs at our local BOCES like Office Skills, Food Prep and Life Skills. Although I was sad to leave when I graduated, I was ready for the next chapter. My mom researched programs that would support me into adulthood and continue to challenge me and help me build my skills. Shortly after, I came full circle and returned to ACDS to become one of the founding participants of their new Day Habilitation Program, “Opportunities.” It was an opportunity to get out into the community for the greater part of the day instead of just spending the day at an agency site. In addition, through ACDS and a mutual friend, I had the opportunity to intern at my first real job at a clothing and jewelry store. There, I learned how to stock the shelves, size the store, wait on customers and even how to process credit cards. My boss, store owner Marlene, was so supportive!!
Our mission at Brittany’s Baskets of Hope is to celebrate the birth of a new baby with Down Syndrome and to provide resources, information and hope to the baby's family. One of the most important items in the baskets is the book Babies with Down Syndrome, which is in its third edition. My parents read it when I was born and they said it was their bible when I was growing up, because it had a lot of interesting, accurate and helpful information on raising a child with Down Syndrome. In the baskets, we also include little gifts to celebrate the babies: books, onesies, pacifiers, shoes, and lots of other items. We partner with many organizations who donate items for our baskets. We have been so lucky to receive donations of handmade baby blankets, hats, booties and sweaters from generous individuals and organizations on Long Island and around the country. A handmade blanket goes into every basket that we send out. Parents send us pictures of their babies with their baskets and we post them on our social media accounts and website. Families fill out a form on our website and we create a personalized basket just for their baby and send it in the mail.
Since delivering my first basket of hope in October 2016, we’ve sent more than 600 baskets to families in 46 states across the country! Check out our website, Brittany's Baskets of Hope, for more information and to donate, or follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Everyone is blessed with different strengths and challenges in their life. I hope that every person with a "different ability" gets the chance to do what they are capable of doing and what makes them happy. My friend, Ashley, always encourages me to “follow my passion” in life and enjoy what I do. That path is different for all of us based on our abilities and circumstances. I always tell everyone that people with Down Syndrome can do anything...really, really, really anything! We all just have to figure out what is right for each of us!