• Joey Agostino
    DJ
  • Tucker Collins
    Photographer
  • Allison Fogarty
    Customer Service
  • Willie Pestolesi
    DJ
  • Robert Hatchett
    Customer Service
  • Tim Collie
    Customer Service
  • Morgan Tibbens
    Business Owner
  • Austin Underwood
    Business Owner
  • Brittany Weiss
    Customer Service
  • John Anton
    Legislative Assistant
  • Baily Thacker
    LuLaRoe Fashion Consultant
  • Jason Dohrman
    Customer Service
  • Erin Thompson
    Office Assistant
  • Blake Pyron
    Business Owner
  • Christopher Wright
    Customer Service
  • Gabriel Savage
    Customer Service
  • Adrian Forsythe Korzeniewicz
    NDSS Assistant
  • Joe Steffy
    Business Owner
  • David Egan
    Advocate
  • Tavrick Raghavan
    Intern & Tattoo Apprentice
  • John Cronin
    Business Owner
  • Ashley DeRamus
    Fashion Industry
  • Valoree Lisi
    Multiple Industries & Advocacy
  • Sean McElwee
    Inspirational Speaker
  • Brad Hennefer
    Customer Service
  • Becky Bierwas
    Floral Business

Joey Agostino

Hello my name is Joey Agostino. I live in Norwalk, CT. I am 22 years old. I graduated from the RISE program at Sacred Heart University.

I loved going to college and making new friends. I worked at a restaurant called, Linda’s on campus. It was fun and I got to work with great people.
I now work at Outback Steakhouse, a job I got all by myself. Last Valentine’s night, I went out to celebrate Valentines Day. The owner of the restaurant, Corey, came over to our table and said that “we made his night” and he wanted to buy our dinner. We said thank you and told him we wanted to work there and he said ok. We went to fill out paperwork and started working 2 weeks later. I work there 2 nights a week. I love working at Outback. Everyone is so nice. I bus tables, do kitchen prep, dining room prep and hostess station. I have another job at Country Convenience in Norwalk. It is a small convenience store in town. I restock, prep pizza boxes, receive deliveries, help customers and work the cash register. The owner Billy is a great guy and I really like working there too.

I love working out at the gym with my pals. I love going to my brother’s football games to cheer him on. I love hanging out with my friends, going to the movies or doing other fun stuff but …what I REALLY LOVE is music!!!!

When anyone asked me what I want to do growing up, I would tell them
“I am going to be a DJ”.
I always have my earphones and music with me wherever I go. I love to create playlists and try to remix songs.
I LOVE music and I LOVE being a DJ.

After I won the NDSS Ethan Saylor Scholarship I started DJ lessons with Mark Minnock. Mark became not only my teacher but my partner and most of all my best friend.
My first professional gig was The Tim Tebow Night To Shine Prom in New Canaan,CT –It was AWESOME! There were over 350 people at the prom. I was able to use all the things I had learned and I was a Big Hit! After that, I did Graduation Parties and other small events in CT.

But the BIGGEST gig I have gotten was the LuLaRoe Gala in Anaheim CA.
Sara Weir from NDSS called and told us that LuLaRoe wanted to fly me out to California to DJ the LuLaRoe Gala. I was very excited – I always dreamed of going to California to be a DJ.
Lindsay Stidham, DeAnne & Mark, Jordan, Jen and the entire LuLaRoe Family and of course NDSS helped make that dream come true!!

It was amazing! I was the DJ for 1,800 people. I felt just like a Rock Star!!! People were stopping me to take selfies and chanting my name “DJ Joe”– “DJ Joe”. It was magical. I knew I would be a great DJ because, music makes me feel so happy, it makes everyone feel happy and I love making people happy!!

People said I couldn’t do it – that being a DJ was just a dream. Well, dreams come true —my dream came true and I am so happy. I can’t wait for my next gig. I have a few small ones but my next big one is The Tim Tebow Night To Shine Prom-again! I did such a great job at the first one they asked me back and told me they wanted no body else– only me –DJ Joe

My mom always says do what you love. I love working for Outback & Country Convenience but what I truly love is being a DJ. My goal is to continue to grow my DJ business, making people happy with music. Don’t ever let people tell you that you can’t do it…I know you can …I know you can do what you love if you work hard, follow your dreams and never give up.

DJ Joe – Joey Agostino

www.DJJoe.info

Tucker Collins

My name is Tucker Collins and I am a photographer. I love taking pictures: selfies, surprise portraits, crazy views, I love it all. When I was about 10, I picked up my Mom’s camera and started to shoot. I wanted my family to see what I saw. My Mom saw the pictures and knew we had found a way to show my ABILITY to the world. It’s my way of showing everyone how I view the world because people don’t always understand what I am saying
We started Tucker Collins Photography about 3 years ago. I have a website and do some local events such as school holiday fairs and the MDSC Congress to sell notecards and large format canvases.
There is an old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. I say that if a picture is worth a thousand words, let me share my novel with you! I see something in my view, and go for it. We don’t typically edit the photos before we print.
I dream of a future in visual arts with both still and moving pictures, and hope to attend the New York Film Academy after high school. My brother is a film maker and I want to help him tell stories. I want to live in New York City.

www.tuckercollinsphotography.com

Allison Fogarty

My name is Allison Fogarty and I am CEO of Doggy Delights by Allison LLC. Check out my website – DoggyDelightsByAllison.com. You can check out my dog treats and read more about my life story and my business.

My amazing life journey began when I was born in 1991. My life has been difficult due to Tracheo-Esophageal Fistula and laryngeal cleft (not discovered until I was 11 years old). I had a trach for 23 years, and when I was 11 years old I got a g-tube. I also have Down syndrome.

My medical problems were not easy to live with, and I missed out on a lot. However, these difficulties made me the person I am today. When I could not eat or drink I became obsessed with cooking shows, and this passion turned into my business. I love all things kitchen – I took cooking classes, and I watch chefs on TV and YouTube, read and try recipes, plan menus, and now make and sell dog treats. I mix the recipes, form the shapes and bake them all by myself. Doggy Delights by Allison is a great business for me because I get to work in the kitchen. I also like preparing the packaging for the treats. I have a lot of fun selling my treats. I meet a lot of people and a lot of dogs, too.

I am very thankful to the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida (DSACF) because right when we moved to FL from IL they began their first Entrepreneur Academy. I am one of 12 CEOs in the Academy. Being a part of the Academy has helped me (and my sidekicks – my parents) learn how to start a business. The leaders of the Academy are wonderful cheerleaders and encourage us, give important information, bring in speakers, and help us problem solve. Other participants have given us good ideas and feedback, too.

Willie Pestolesi

My name is Willie Pestolesi aka DJ WILLPOWER. I attended Irvine High School where I earned a varsity letter for 4 years as a manager of the football team. During Senior year I was voted Prom King, named one of the 10 Pacesetters, and joined the Hip Hop Club.  It was then that I dreamed of becoming a D.J. but first I needed to get a job.

After High School while attending the Adult Transition Program, I learned various skills including working at a supermarket and was able to talk about this during an “informal interview” while playing golf in a Special Olympics tournament.  I didn’t know I was talking with a director from Albertsons and he placed a call to the local store manager and asked him to set up an interview.  I was hired and have been working full time for 14 years as a courtesy clerk.

Another dream was to live on my own.  I participated in a pilot program with Social Security which allowed me to save money to be used for either a car, business, or home.  Because of my job, I was able to save enough money each month towards a home.  The neighboring City of Tustin happened to have a new development that included some affordable housing units and I qualified for the project.  I was lucky to select a one bedroom condo and move in on June 1st, 2007.  I am able to pay all my bills because of my job at Albertsons.

I began learning how to be a DJ after my parents bought me a mixer which played CDs. With the help from my father, himself a musician, I now have my own D.J. business called DJ WILLPOWER. For the last 11 years, I have upgraded my system to include lights, sound and now all my music is on the computer.  I perform for events sponsored by organizations that promote and support the abilities of individuals with special needs.  My regular gigs include dances and activities for the Down Syndrome Association of Orange County, Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, and the City of Irvine Disabilities Services. Additionally, I’ve performed for state and local Best Buddies chapters.

My passion is music and I enjoy spending time choosing music, learning dance moves, and keeping up with the latest entertainment.

Robert Hatchett

My son Rusty graduated from Perry Meridian H.S. in 2013 . He had an immediate position in the University of Indianapolis cafeteria. Through his teachers efforts from school. He worked with a job coach for 1 week then we agreed that he no longer needed a coach. He has currently been asked to join a team at a Oral Therapist office where he receives services himself. He really likes his job! The picture is of Rusty working in a therapy session with his Oral Therapist and another client Leo . He likes this job because he gets to do something different every day he works. He sanitizes therapy toys and tables, walks the office therapy dog, and occasionally get to help with a client. I am so proud of Rusty, I know he can do anything!

Tim Collie

I work at Swirlz and I get to do everything! I can use the cash register and I love it. I am 35 and have worked other places but I only got to wash dishes and sweep. I have taught myself to be motivated with filling cups, napkins and toppings. I feel very important at Swirlz. I have been at the job for 2 years. I love to meet new customers and they learn my name and we become friends. I also love being part of the Swirlz team of employees.

My job makes me feel proud. You can see pictures of me on Facebook: Swirlz, Smoothies & Frozen Yogurt My advice for other individuals with Down syndrome is to learn to count money, especially coins and don’t give up. Believe in yourself and keep dreaming big. Think about what is the next right thing to do and do it before your boss asks.

Morgan Tibbens

“I make and sell bath bombs with charms in them, shower disk, sugar scrub, and bath salts. I started working in November of 2016. I love making money to be able to go to college at Mississippi State Hail State. My job makes me feel important and reminds me that I can do anything!!!

My advice to other individuals with Down syndrome who have or want a job is to NEVER GIVE UP!!! It took over a month to get the bath bombs down right. If I would have gave up I would not have my own business Da Bombs by Morgan Tibbens!”

Austin Underwood

Underwood for President!

Austin Underwood has always dreamt of owning and running his own business, but little did he know he’d go from a college student to President of Austin’s Underdawgs in a few short years.

Austin was born with an entrepreneurial spirit, something he inherited from his mother and father, Jan and Joe, who have owned and operated their own companies.  Much like his entrepreneurial spirit, Austin was born with Down syndrome, and because of how his extra chromosome expresses itself, he is unable to do things like read or drive a car. However, that was not Austin’s and his family’s focus when they were planning for his future. They knew Austin needed a job that focused on his abilities rather than his disabilities because the goal was for Austin to be as independent as possible.

Jan knew that independence on the job would only be possible through specialized training. She researched programs that would be a good fit with Austin’s abilities and interests, and the Special Services Occupational Training Program at Eastern New Mexico University—Roswell fit both Austin’s skills and love of cooking.

First and foremost, the Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) Program taught Austin to live independently and separately from his family.  He was thrown into living situation where he had to  apply the skills he had learned growing up to depend on himself. His daily life at ENMU had adequate supervision for his special needs, but ultimately, Austin just grew into an adult. He was responsible for getting to his classes and his job practicum, and he was responsible for making food, entertainment and socialization choices.

While at ENMU, Austin learned how to prep food through his vocational practicum at the school dining hall. He was so successful at his job that he eventually became the Stir Fry Station prep chef. Little did he know this experience was a stepping stone to becoming President Underwood.

His college life wasn’t all about cooking, because college wouldn’t be college without a social life. Austin was part of many clubs, but his favorite was the Special Ski Team. Austin joined the Special Ski Team and traveled with the team each Friday to Ruidoso for a day of skiing January through February.

Much like everyone’s college experiences, Austin learn to ride a city bus, keep up with his belongings, live with roommates, and just general life lessons. Next thing they knew, Austin had graduated from the Special Services Occupational Training Program at Eastern New Mexico University—Roswell with a certification as prep chef.

Before leaving for ENMU, Austin had gone to work for the summer at Albertson’s Grocery as a bagger and carry-out clerk. After graduating from ENMU, he returned to Albertson’s where he worked for 13 years. However, one job has never been enough for Austin, so during his work at Albertson’s, Austin also worked at his Mother’s store doing odd jobs several hours a week and at another café, until it closed.

Austin always loved the restaurant business, which is why he went to ENMU, and in 2013 he was ready to dive in. That year, Campisi’s of Dallas opened a restaurant in Fort Worth, Austin boldly asked the owner, David Campisi, for a job while dining. David hired him! And now Austin is a “family” member the customers have grown to love, support and expect to see at each visit. His continual experience at Campisi’s helps polish his restaurant customer service, a skill that is paramount to Austin’s Underdawgs. However, it was his late grandmother, Maw, who ignited his passion for cooking years before.

Austin asked Maw one day to help with her special banana pudding, a dessert the Underwood’s would have at family dinners”…you know, when you had to have a dessert at the end of each meal!”. He then asked her for the ingredients and started making it himself. He messed up a few batches, but finally got the hang of it.

Since Austin does not read, he purchases everything from branding, so he mixed up Eagle brand milk and Evaporated milk a couple of times, but once he gets something locked in, he remembers.  The invention of the iPhone, Facetime and Siri have simplified his life tremendously.  Also, we take photos of all products from him deciding on milk to what temperature to set the oven. Technology is amazing!

His love of food had him yearning to own his own restaurant. Some 16 years later, with the help of technology, his family and friends, and an amazing community to support him Austin opened Austin’s Underdawgs and became President Underwood.

Brittany Weiss

Brittany Weiss is 28 years old and works at Specs4Us, a company that sells eyeglass frames that are custom designed to fit individuals with Down syndrome. Brittany proudly wears an Erin’s World frame by Specs4Us frame as well and models that frame on their website. Brittany is an invaluable employee, and does everything from mailing out customer statements, replenishing stock, data entry and sending out postcards to potential customers. Brittany excels at every task she is given and prides herself in a job well done. She is always ready to learn something new. Recently, she has expressed an interest in answering the phone. She has begun training with a co-worker and will be answering the phone independently soon.
The office staff at Specs4Us enjoys working with Brittany. Her sweet spirit is a welcome addition to the office. She cares for all of her co-workers and offers words of encouragement throughout the day, as well as good-natured teasing.

Before coming to Specs4Us Brittany worked at River Copy and Mail where she scanned documents, did data entry, mailings and some piecework. Brittany says she developed a love for office work there and sought to find employment at an office when they closed. She also gained hands on job training from Two Café & Boutique in Chagrin, Ohio. As stated on their website, “The Two Café and Boutique exists to provide real work experience and employment for our job seeker in a fully integrated setting,” it is there that Brittany gained important work experience. She learned all about food preparation; re-stock skills, washing dishes and how to clean the restrooms. She also brought food to hungry customers, which increased her people skills allowing her bubbly personality to shine brighter. Maria, owner of Specs4Us, was introduced to Brittany and interviewed her at Two Café and Boutique as a part of their job placement program. Brittany’s work experience fit perfectly with the position Maria was looking to fill and she was impressed with her eagerness to work and outgoing attitude.

John Anton

I am the Legislative Specialist at the State House in Boston. I also work with the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and I do very well with legislation to help them sponsor all of their bills. I focus on all areas of bills. Politics is the field I like to be in. I am hoping that someday I can run for office. I would love to work in Washington, D.C. full time, earning a good income and getting married someday. I like to prove to people that I can get the job done! I have been a Legislative Specialist for about 5 years now.

My favorite part of my job is the social relationships I create with people in the State House and in D.C. and I hope to carry on with help from MDSC and my mom. I am a man of many dreams and I am going to stick to what I like to do. I like working in my own office and getting paid.

When people come to the office, I ask how I can help them. I also tell them whether my colleagues are in or out. I can take the issues for them.

My job makes me feel satisfied. I love this job! I want to be recognized for all of the skills, talents and everything else that I have to offer.

When I was younger I had all kinds of dreams about what kind of job I wanted. I hope that someday I am persistent in getting what I need for myself. I feel like my dreams come true.

For a job: you need to get along with each other when you work in an office, always do your best, be on top of everything and carry on.

Be persistent and never give up!

Baily Thacker

Baily works as a LuLaRoe Consultant with her mother Becky. Baily does a lot of live sales and keeps up with the LuLaRoe inventory. Baily sells cardigans, leggings, skirts and tee shirts. She also hosts parties where she sets up the inventory. Baily helps her clients pick out the perfect outfits! Through working with LuLaRoe, she is learning great work ethic, people skills and the importance of earning for a living.

Jason Dohrman

I work as the Dining Room Service Lead at my local Chick-fil-a. I have been working there since April, 2017. I love meeting people and greeting them. I also like taking the trays and getting drinks for people. I look forward to getting dressed up and going in. I like the responsibility-it makes me feel grown up. I enjoy earning money and eating at Chick-fil-a.

All individuals with Down Syndrome should be given a chance to be trained and be productive. This really is important to the community and we should all have that opportunity.  My school has provided that opportunity to and enabled Chick-fil-a to see what a hard worker I am.

Erin Thompson

My family has always had high expectations for me.  I have also tried to set the bar high for myself.  I believe that people with Down syndrome deserve respect and be given all the opportunities to show that they can shine and achieve. I have been fortunate to demonstrate my abilities in my life and now it is especially important with my employment.

Some of the biggest goals in my life were to go to college, have a meaningful job and career and advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. I am proud to say that I have accomplished those goals. But I still want to do more!

After high school I wanted to attend college like my peers and went to the MasonLIFE program at George Mason University for four years, graduating in May of 2010. I loved college. I learned to be independent and I lived in the dorms.  I did my class work by myself, wrote articles for the college newspaper, and was responsible for my laundry and food. I also advocated by myself to audit regular college classes because I wanted a true college experience and to learn as much as possible.

While in college I volunteered and worked for different advocacy groups during my school breaks.  I learned that I had a strong voice and wanted to learn how to be a good self-advocate.

After graduation I applied for a lot of jobs and had many interviews. Unfortunately, some companies didn’t want to give me a chance.  But, it was networking with the people I had met through my advocacy that led me to my fantastic job.

Since January 2011 I have had a wonderful and meaningful job at Rosetta Stone in Rosslyn, Virginia!  I am an office assistant.

My job is rewarding to me.  I am a valued member of the Rosetta Stone team and my co-workers respect me, challenge me and support me.  They are my colleagues and my friends.

My responsibilities at work are taking care of the mail, greeting and escorting visitors to the office, organizing and stocking the pantry and copy rooms and inventorying supplies.  I enjoy learning new skills because I told my supervisor that I wanted to keep learning. I have learned to use Excel and help with special projects.  I have benefits and have received a raise and bonus every year!

A big challenge when I started my job was learning how to get to work on the Metro subway. Now when there are delays or problems with my commute I know what to do. I also enjoy reading the paper on the train to work to keep up with the news.

In addition to my career at Rosetta Stone, my advocacy is an important part of my mission to demonstrate the important and exciting contributions people with Down syndrome can make to their communities. I belong to many organizations and it has been very important for my advocacy.  I continue to network and meet new people. It has been an empowering experience!

I am honored to be on the Board of the National Down Syndrome Society and the Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia. I participate in Special Olympics and I am an Ambassador for Best Buddies.  I have had the privilege of attending meetings around the country in my role as a self-advocate.

I believe that I was able to reach my goals and accomplishments that led me to meaningful employment and self-advocacy because of the love and support of so many people around me. I was also given the opportunity to dream big.  I had a wonderful education.  And I had the privilege of working and volunteering with advocacy groups and meeting other wonderful self-advocates.  I’ve had many champions in my life that have “had my back,” encouraged me and allowed me to become more independent.  Even though I know I have had so much support in my life I am proud of the hard work I have demonstrated to achieve my goals.

Blake Pyron

I am the owner of Blake’s Snow Shack in Sanger, Texas. Some may say that I am an example of a hardworking man that wanted to start my own business, but truly, I simply wanted to bring delicious snow to my community of Sanger.

My story starts in 1996, when my mom and dad, Billy and Mary Ann Pyron brought me into the world and soon thereafter we’re told I had Down syndrome. They were told often of all the things I “wouldn’t be able to do” or “couldn’t do”, but still they raised me with love, God and lots of perseverance. Soon they started to see all the things I “would do” and “could do” in the future. My childhood had its obstacle like anyone’s childhood, but I proved resilient with what my mom says is my infectious smile and heart of gold. In high school everyone knew I was going places. I was two-time captain of the Varsity football team, Prom King and Texas citizen of the year! However, little did anyone expect I’d bring snow to Sanger.

It was the Summer of 2015 and a very exciting time for my family as I was graduating high school. With that excitement was also nerves of “what’s next for Blake?” I was working at a local BBQ restaurant but they were closing, so I needed to find employment elsewhere. My family and I spent the summer researching options. We knew that I loved my customers and friends at the BBQ restaurant, so my family and I knew the business would need to be downtown Sanger for me to continue developing those relationships.

As you might expect, Texas is a very hot state and Texans love snow cones. So as a family, we did our homework and decided a snow cone stand was indeed a viable business for us. Since day one, I was thrilled. I picked out the concession trailer, presented my business plan to the City of Sanger, and haven’t looked back.

The grand opening of Blake’s Snow Shack was on Mother’s Day weekend 2016, and it was a success, with a crowd of more than 1000 people. Since then we’ve had numerous TV interviews and even had Blake’s Snow Shack logo on a NASCAR that ran this last month at Pocono. My small town business has been featured on international news, appeared in the Huffington Post, A&E Latinoamerica, Unworthy, Reddit and even on the Today Show Australia. And my business has been recognized by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and the US Senate.

This #NationalEntrepreneurshipMonth, I want to thank my parents, Billy and Mary Ann Pyron for always believing in me and teaching me to believe in myself. Blake’s Snow Shack and my dream of bringing snow to Sanger couldn’t have happened without them. I love being Blake of Blake’s Snow Shack, a role that gives me the opportunity to bring a smile and some snow to all my customers and friends. Not to mention, I’m showing the world that those with Down Syndrome don’t just make great employees, but also successful business owners when given the chance.

My family and I want all self-advocates, like me, to have the opportunity to follow their entrepreneurship dreams, so in 2016 we established the NDSS #DSWORKS® Blake Pyron Entrepreneurship Scholarship. The scholarship will be awarded  at the 2016 Buddy Walk® on Washington for a  self-advocate to pursue their dreams and aspirations of starting their own business.

Thank you for reading my story and I hope it showed you that anything is possible— even snow in Sanger.

 

Christopher Wright

My son, Christopher, at 31 years old is happily employed at Publix! Christopher was born in England and moved to Florida at six years old, where he attended Crystal Springs Elementary School and went on to Palm Avenue Exceptional Student Center. At the Exceptional Student Center, he worked through the job enclave program, which placed him at the Holiday Inn, St. Catherine’s, Dignity You Wear, and UF Health Shands Hospital. The vocational training he received at the Exceptional Student Center prepared him to apply for the bagger position at Publix, a company he has now been with for ten years! The customers LOVE Christopher and many favour his line to check out. He always gives his best and treats everyone he meets with respect and kindness. His heart is open and pure and he sees everyone as a friend.

Christopher is a joy to be with and very humorous and jokes with his family and peers. He has recently become an Uncle for the first time and is so VERY proud of his niece Ashlyn. Everyone at Publix knows her age, what date she was born, her birth weight, what time she arrived etc. He calls her his Princess. Ashlyn is the joy of his life just as he has been ours. We have had many challenges along the way, but Chris has overcome them all with his positive outlook on life and trust in the goodness of the people he meets. He is a very special son and we are blessed to have him in our lives. The picture is of a surprise visit from Christopher’s “princess” at work.

Gabriel Savage

My name is Gabriel Savage and I’ve had 2 jobs here in Washington, D.C. I worked at Advocates for Justice and Education from September of 2012 until the middle of 2015 doing various administrative task like mailings, copying, and shredding a lot of paper. I also worked as a youth advocate, going into schools to teach self-care and advocacy skills to students with special needs. My job at AJE was part-time, and not enough hours to sustain myself independently, so I got help with my resume and applied online to the grocery store in my neighborhood. It took some time, persistence, and a few visits to speak with the manager of the store following up on my application before I got the call,” You got the Job!”

Eventually, I did such a good job that they gave me so many hours that I had to quit my job with AJE. I have been working at Harris Teeter for a year now and I love it! Regular customers recognize me in the neighborhood and many neighbors from my building come to the shop at my Harris Teeter! All my coworkers know and love me. They are my Harris Teeter family.

Adrian Forsythe Korzeniewicz

On my second day working for the National Down Syndrome Society, I embraced my new duties as NDSS Advocacy Program Assistant. I headed to Capitol Hill to assist the Vice President of Advocacy & Public Policy, by providing her with a self-advocate’s perspective on NDSS legislative goals. My ambition has always been to advocate for people with disabilities, and as the NDSS Advocacy Program Assistant, I am turning my passion into my career.

I graduated from the George Mason LIFE Program with concentrations in theater and communications.  At George Mason, I appeared in plays, worked backstage and joined several student theater groups. My background in theatre at George Mason taught me much more than how to be an actor, theatre helped me find my voice as self-advocate, “I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.” Now that I’ve graduated, my passion for the arts shines through at Arts Stream, where I participate in a theater company, lead communication and community workshops, and I am a board member. For one of the community workshops, I combined my advocacy and theater passions into a single activity, the Did You Hear? I Heard, which teaches individuals to communicate clearly. I was excited to share with others my passions of art and advocacy, and how my two passions can go hand-in-hand. I was so happy to see how the activity, not only taught people how to communicate clearly, but it inspired confidence in all of those participating.

Prior to my job at the National Down Syndrome Society, I had extensive work experience, ranging from interning at the Smithsonian Institution with Project Search to a Congressional internship on Capitol Hill. I was given a lot of responsibility while I was interning on Capitol Hill. One of the important tasks I had to do each day was to organize and direct the hundreds of emails and phone calls, making sure they went to the correct person. The responsibilities given to me in all of my internships prepared me for my job at the National Down Syndrome Society, where I attend Hill meetings, process materials, and help develop new resources for the Down syndrome Community. In my spare time, I am a trained peer mentor with Project STIR, a DS-Ambassador from Maryland with the National Down Syndrome Society and a Board Member of the Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County in MD because an advocate’s job never stops.

Joe Steffy

My Name is Joe Steffy, I am 30 years old and I own Poppin Joe’s Kettle Korn. As October is Down syndrome Awareness Month, I wanted to share my story to inspire others to pursue their dreams. My story is a tribute to my parents’ determination and the support they have given to ensure my quality of life. I have been able to share my success story across the country at conferences, seminars, and to parent and self-advocacy groups.  In honor of Down syndrome Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Month, I’d like to share it with you!

I was born with Down syndrome and later diagnosed with Autism. When I was in school, my teachers said I had an IQ of 32 with profound intellectual disabilities. The reports said that my receptive and expressive language was at a 3-year-old level, and that I had minimal basic academic skills.

As I grew, my parents saw that I liked to do things independently, I loved being active with other people and spending time with family and friends. They recognized that I had a very good memory for detail, and could follow through with activities that are part of a regular routine. I was blessed with many community opportunities and became a very strong swimmer. This led to the opportunity of helping at the community pool. I also enjoyed horseback riding at a local stable and began to volunteer there to help with the horses.

In high school, my team started to plan for my transition into adulthood. The team had very low expectations. They said I would never hold a job, that I had no attention span, could not focus, and would need to live in a group home. My parents disagreed. They knew I was capable of working and that I learned by watching. They also knew I would do exactly what I saw done, so teaching me the right way to do things would be important. I am happiest when I am busy and my parents knew this. I would work, they said.

While on a trip, my Dad saw a man popping kettle corn and it caught his attention. He asked many questions about the process to the man, and learned that kettle corn is an old German way of popping popcorn with sugar. The popcorn pops between 420°- 460° degrees.  When you add the sugar and secret ingredients to the popcorn and vegetable oil in the hot kettle, the sugar breaks down into a liquid.  As the popcorn pops it comes up through the sugar and gives the kernels a sugar coating.   While popping, the kettle is 500° degrees so it is important that it is constantly stirred.  As you stir the popped kernels, it commingles.  Once it is all popped, it is dumped out onto the screening table where it cools.

My Dad came away excited about the possibilities to use this to build on my strengths.  This was a way for me to prove that I could work.  We did a work trial in October of 2000.  The goal was to see if I could work.  We popped on weekends at local grocery stores and I showed Dad I could stay on task for up to 6 hours. In the work trial, Dad saw that I could learn the repetition of the production process. I could pop, and I could bag, both key parts of popping kettle corn.

My parents decided this looked like very promising work for me.  They attended a Davis Hammis presentation at a Partners in Policymaking class in Kansas. It showed that I could OWN my own business.  The key to making Poppin’ Joe’s Kettle Korn come true was having a business plan, doing the work trial, and proving that I could work.

First Steps helped my Mom set up the business plan, and the Kansas Department for Developmental Disabilities provided me with a new business startup grant to purchase new equipment. My start up team included Social Security, which offers a program called PASS (The plan for achieving self-support) and having cash set aside for achieving my business goals. My parents also worked with Vocational Rehab to purchase a computer and laser printer for my business. They submitted my business plan to open Poppin’ Joes Kettle Korn to each of these team members. My team was then able to provide me the startup supports I needed to become the sole proprietor of Poppin Joe’s Kettle Korn in April of 2005.

I offer five products in my business. Cinnamon Kettle Korn, Sweet and Cheesy, Old Fashioned Kettle Korn, White Cheddar popcorn, and Golden Karmel Korn. 65% of my business is through selling at Festivals like the county fairs, car shows and various festivals around Kansas City. 25% of my business is through weekly supplies to specialty stores like gas stations, medical centers and farmer’s markets. The final 10 % is popcorn I sell for special events like weddings, graduations, employee events and internet sales.

My daily business tasks include deliveries, banking, paying my bills, and sending out invoices, as well as popping kettle korn to keep up with the demand. My gross sales starting out were $15,000 in 2005.  They doubled in 2006, and have now have tripled to over $60,000 annually in sales last year! We are a success because of teamwork and the commitment my parents have made to me.

Poppin’ Joe’s Kettle Korn began with the mission of honoring God in all we do. Being a blessing to other people, to pursue excellence, and to grow profitability.  I am a member in the community that I work in, which gives me a place to belong.  I am a contributing citizen and am able to do fundraisers for local churches, schools, businesses and communities events, as well as for many nonprofit organizations.  My community values me – I pay taxes!

In 2008, Poppin Joes helped me move into my own home. I love my freedom! It gives me a great life! I go to work during the day, and hang out and do fun activities at night, just like most business owners. I have many activities I enjoy, like shooting hoops, horseback riding, swimming, traveling, skiing, going to amusement parks, water surfing, sky diving, lifting weights, scuba diving, spending time with my family and friends.  My business has also enabled me to have many adventures, going places and meeting people I would not otherwise get to meet. I have been invited to travel and share my story with groups across the country.  This has brought me many new friends, and expanded my business even further.

I have been blessed by incredible parents who have advocated for me since my birth. They saw my potential. They knew that I could succeed. They have given their time and energy to help make my business a reality and a continued success.  This Down syndrome Awareness Month and Disability Employment Month I want to say Thank You to my advocates since birth, Mom and Dad, Janet and Ray Steffy. I love being Poppin’ Joe!

*Article is from Joe’s Power point presentation he uses with his augmentative device to tell his story.  Joe Steffy is 30 years old and lives in his own apartment in Louisburg, Kansas and is the owner of Popping Joe’s Kettle Korn. 

David Egan

Employment is a defining aspect of adult life. It connects us to full participation and inclusion in our communities; it fosters a sense of self-worth, opens opportunities for social growth, and leads to greater independence. Employing individuals with intellectual disabilities is a smart business decision and a social responsibility as I told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in 2011, during the Committee Hearing on Improving Employment Opportunities for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

I have surprised my family and many others over the past thirty nine years of my life.  When I was born, I don’t think that my parents imagined me as an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. I just completed a one- year fellowship as a Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Public Policy Fellow, first on Capitol Hill with the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security and then with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).  It is an honor and a privilege to have been selected as the first person with an intellectual disability to serve in this position.

My employment story started early in my life, and it took many years to prepare. I believe that inclusion starts at home.  In my family, I was taught that work is part of life. Early on, I helped with family chores, and I was not excused because of my disability. Later on, I learned more about work in high school with an internship at the National Wild Life Federation and at the Davis Career Center. In 1996, I got my first internship at Booz Allen Hamilton through the “Bridges Program” sponsored by the Marriott Foundation, which encourages employers to hire interns with an intellectual disability so they can explore job opportunities.

Once my internship ended, I was hired as an employee and have worked in the distribution center for almost 20 years. My first supervisor was great; she took it upon herself to teach me everything there was to know about being a clerk.  She believed in me and she wanted me to succeed as a staff employee.  At work, I am treated like other employees. The company cares about my personal and professional development. I am “one of them and not one among them.”.  I am empowered to contribute.

Promoting careers for people like me is very important and worth our time and attention. We need to move away from low expectations and start hiring people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. Why, in 2016, aren’t there more integrated competitive employment opportunities for people like me?

I am proud to have a job and I am thankful that both Booz Allen Hamilton and currently CBRE, my new employer, pay me competitive wages, give me full benefits, and include me on the team.  Having Down syndrome does not define me as a person.  People with disabilities want to be accepted and given an opportunity to succeed like anyone else. People with disabilities are citizens that matter.  We are ready and able to work.  I pay taxes, I vote, and I matter. Employment is about dignity and inclusion.

Tavrick Raghavan

Hello, my name is Tavrick. I am going to tell you about my many paid jobs and internships.

I have been paid as an extra in a movie and to model. I have also been paid to work in a production center to make windows for an aircraft company.

I had the opportunity to intern at a tattoo parlor, which is my dream job, and I have interned at a PT therapy clinic. I really liked my two bosses and my coworkers at both of my internships.

I am now in an internship program called Project Search, in this program, I rotate through 3 different internships set up for me by the program. I had to be tested to see if I could be trained to do the jobs. I was able to give them ideas of what type of jobs I was interested in trying out. They work with my Life Skills program to make sure I am prepared and I also have a job coach to help with my on the job training.

My first Project Search rotation was at my county’s Election Office, during our state and national elections – which was pretty exciting!

My second rotation was at a 717-bed hospital.

Now I intern at a science museum’s gift store.

You might wonder how I got the tattoo parlor job while still in middle school. Well, I told my mom about my interest and we just walked in and asked!! We were pretty amazed when the owner said “yes.” He was excited about working with me. My mom said it was just like in the movies and she could not believe it was actually happening. However, I would have to say that starting internships in middle school definitely prepared me for my later internships with Project Search.

All together my three Project Search rotations will take about a whole school year.

I enjoy learning new skills in new places that will help me get my dream job. But, honestly, my dream job changes.

I like music, arts and entertainment, so I would like to work in that area somehow. I would like to help set up for entertainment events. Right now I do a little of that by volunteering at a film festival and a living history museum. I volunteer whenever I can and started when I was young.

I also want to design T-shirts, and own a tattoo parlor, and write a book about musicians and…you see…I have a few too many dream jobs and every week I add more dream jobs! After all, I am still pretty young.

In all my jobs, I like the people I work with the most, I like that I am making a difference, and I love the food! My old tattoo parlor boss used to treat me to burgers and tacos. That was fine with me!

My advice is to have a good work attitude, do what your bosses and coaches ask you to do in a happy and cheerful manner, speak up if you are unhappy about something, are confused or need more information, and listen to your parent/guardian’s advice. Most importantly, do your work!

John Cronin

My name is John Cronin. I am 21 years old and I have Down syndrome. Last November, I started a new business with my Dad. It is called John’s Crazy Socks and we sell socks online. I love having my own business and I love working with my Dad. I want to share my story so that people can learn about John’s Crazy Socks and other people can see what someone with Down syndrome can do.

I love hearing my Dad tell the story of when I was born and he held me in his arms and cried because he was so happy. I don’t remember any of this, but I was sick when I was born. I had two operations. Doctors fixed my intestine when I was only two days old. And before I was three months old, I had heart surgery because I had a hole in my heart. A lot of people with Down syndrome are born with heart problems, but good doctors can repair those hearts. My Mom and Dad have pictures when I was just a tiny, tiny baby, but now I am big, strong and healthy.

I have my own business now, but I spent a lot of time in school learning so I could start my business. I went to pre-school at ACDS. I remember riding the bus to school and have pictures from when I was playing in that school. They helped me get started. After pre-school, I went to the Huntington Schools. I have had many really good teachers there who helped me a lot. They were very special to me. When I was a little kid, I had an aide who would help me in school. I liked my aides, but I wanted to show them that I would do things on my own so then I didn’t need an aide. I also took the big bus to school like everyone else so I didn’t need to ride on the little bus.

My favorite subject is math, but I like all my classes. I studied life skills with Dr. Murphy-Jessen, though I also got to take chorus, photography and fashion. Ms. Klee has been my speech teacher and she is always helping me. I keep working on my speech because in my business I meet with so many people and speak to big groups. During the last three years, I spent half my day at Huntington High School and half my day at Wilson Tech. This year, I am studying retailing at Wilson Tech. Two days a week, I go into the community and work at stores. I work at Bob’s and Marshalls. And we run the snack shop at Wilson Tech.

I have two big brothers and they played a lot of sports and even played football in college. I wanted to be like them so I play a lot of sports in the Special Olympics. I love the Special Olympics. I play soccer, basketball, floor hockey, track, bowling and snowshoe. I go to practices and we train for the big games and matches. I love going to the State Games. I take the bus with the team and stay in a hotel with the team. I can do that because I am independent and can do things on my own. I have a lot of great coaches in Special Olympics like Coach Mike and Coach Murray in soccer, and Coach Joe and my brothers and Dad who help coach. My favorite coach is Linda Roth who is my snowshoe coach. She is a tough woman, but lots of fun and she gets us to run hard. We train on the beach in the summer when there is no snow and get in shape for our races in the winter.

My brothers Patrick and Jamie have always helped me and my Dad and Mom love me and teach me all the time. They help me do things on my own. I like to be independent and show people what I can do. I have my own room and I take care of that. I bring my laundry to the laundromat. I can make my own food. When we go out, I order my own food and I pay for things. I can walk into town on my own because my parents trust me and I like to do things like everybody else.

I had my first job in a law office for my parents. I would help with the shredding and go to the Post Office. I first went to the Post Office with my Dad and he showed me what to do. Then I went by myself. Two years ago, my parents gave me a contract. I had my responsibilities and I did them every day. I did the shredding and went to the Post Office and cleaned up outside and took care of the recycling. I also did errands like bring checks to people and pick up things at the store. I loved having a job and earning money to pay for things on my own. Last summer, I got a job working in the kitchen at Camp Alvernia. I went to Camp Alvernia when I was a little kid and was happy to go back and work there. I helped put drinks in the refrigerator and get food ready to cook and I cleaned up after the lunches.

Because I turned 21, this is my last year in school. I loved going to school and seeing my teachers and my friends, but I want to be a grown up. I was thinking of a lot of different things after leaving school, but I wanted to go into business with my Dad. Last November, we were talking about my socks because I always liked to wear fun socks. I said we should sell socks and he agreed. That’s how we can up with the idea of John’s Crazy Socks. We wanted to do something fast so we could see if the store would work. I helped pick out socks and my Dad built the website and helped organize the company. We made a Facebook page and I made videos for Facebook. We discussed all the plans and worked hard to make our business a success. We opened our store on Friday, December 9, 2016. And wow, people loved what we did. We sold so many socks that we ran out of socks that weekend. We sent our socks all around the country, though I made home deliveries in the town where I live, Huntington, NY. I loved making the home deliveries and meeting customers and seeing them smile.

Because I love the Special Olympics so much, we decided to give to the Special Olympics. So we give 5 percent of everything we make to the Special Olympics. Since I have Down syndrome, I wanted to do a Down syndrome sock. My Dad and I designed this sock and we give money from it to my old school, ACDS, and to the National Down Syndrome Society. I have a lot of friends with autism, so I wanted to do an autism sock too. So now we have an Autism Awareness Sock and we give money to charity from that sock.

My Dad says I am the face of the business. My face is on the logo. I make videos about our sock store. I meet with the sock makers and help pick out socks. I meet with customers and speak to community groups. I like to give my business card to people and tell them to buy my socks.

Every day I work in my business. I help get the socks to put in orders. I write thank you cards that we put into every package. I help put together the cards and candy that we put in our packages. I bring our packages to the Post Office every day. My Dad jokes that I look like Santa Claus carrying a bag of goodies. And I make local deliveries.

We are growing our business. We have hired people to work with us and some of my classmates from school who have autism work with me now. I keep picking out new socks and we have more socks to sell in our store. We hope to have the world’s largest sock store someday. I also hope to be on the Ellen Show to talk about my business.

I hope you enjoyed reading my story. I get to do a lot and I love running my own business. I could not do it on my own. I got help from my family and my teachers, but I am able to work in my business and show that people with Down Syndrome can work and do many things.

Ashley DeRamus

Hi, my name is Ashley DeRamus and I am a person with Down syndrome.

My imagination and drive to succeed know no limits. So, having Down syndrome has never stopped me from following any of my dreams.

Now, at the age of 34, I am an award winning athlete, a national advocate for individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities, a public speaker, a fashion designer and the leader of a charitable foundation for people with Down syndrome.

As an athlete, I have earned 43 medals for swimming in the Special Olympics competitions. I am also a sailor, having logged 5 days on the HMS Bounty tall ship showing the world that having Down syndrome does not stop me from achieving my dreams. However, my dreams keep on growing.

As a national advocate and public speaker, one of my most cherished aspirations is to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at public forums in all 50 states to raise national awareness of the abilities of people with Down syndrome and to encourage people with Down syndrome to be informed voters. I have already led the Pledge in 30 states, at locations such as the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Grand Canyon. With 20 more states to go, I have had other opportunities to spread awareness of the varying abilities of people with Down syndrome using other platforms. I was interviewed at the United Nations speakers corner, which allowed me to show people from around the world how I, Ashley DeRamus, a person with Down syndrome can follow my dreams.

It was an honor when I was named one of the “6 Entrepreneurs with Down syndrome Who Are Inspiring the World” by Disney’s Babble. On top of being an international voice for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities, I had a music video debut with Grammy and Dove Award-winning Christian and gospel singer Jason Crabb for his new single, “Love is Stronger.” I starred in the video depicting families touched by Down syndrome. The video was a success and in September 2013 went on to be featured by USA Today.

As a young woman with Down syndrome, I was always struggling to find clothes that were both fashionable and fit me well. My mom and I did not understand why a woman with Down syndrome, like myself, should have to choose between being fashionable or finding clothes that fit me well. My mom and I launched Ashley by Design, a line of fashion-forward clothing especially designed to fit young ladies with Down syndrome who always want to look their best! My mom and I are the designers of the clothing line and believe that Down syndrome should never be an obstacle to wearing the latest styles that fit great. So, Ashley by Design is not only on trend, it is cut to perfectly fit the proportions of girls and ladies with Down syndrome. Even better is that young ladies that wear Ashley by Design can feel confident that they are a fashionable philanthropist, as proceeds from the sales of the clothing supports the Ashley DeRamus Foundation.

The Ashley DeRamus Foundation was launched by my mom and me in 2012. The Foundation’s mission is to educate the public about Down syndrome. Among the many things, the foundation does to help educate the public about Down syndrome is our focus in early intervention at the Bell Center in Birmingham, Alabama. At Birmingham, Alabama’s Bell Center for Early Intervention we provide funding for early intervention, and I also volunteer at the Bell Center!

At the Bell Center, I work with babies with Down syndrome and children with other special needs. My hope is to be a role model, so when the parents of the babies and children meet me, they see that with a little imagination and drive to succeed, nothing can stop their children from following their dreams.

Valoree Lisi

Hi, my name is Valoree Lisi and I am 26 years old.

This is my story on my successful journey of how I have achieved four jobs; two paid jobs and two volunteer jobs. I began working when I was 14 as a volunteer for the Hudson Valley SPCA. I still volunteer once a week for 4 hours, 13 years later! When I was 17 I began working for Price Chopper as a bagger in Newburgh NY. I have been working there for over 10 years.

I am also currently working for Newburgh Enlarged School District, as a cafeteria prep worker. I have worked there for 3 years and will be getting retirement benefits!

I am also a Self – Advocate working with the Down Syndrome Association of Hudson Valley and have been for four years. I helped make the ABLE Act become law of the land.

I went to 3 online colleges and I received 3 diplomas for cooking, catering, and natural health consulting. I have written 2 cookbooks and I am working on my 3rd cookbook.

Sean McElwee

I never thought about having my own business before. Nobody told me I just needed an idea. I had job experiences in my Transition Program, Go-Backs, Sorting underwear and boring stuff like that. Then I got a job at a grocery store facing shelves and doing carts. I hate the carts. I quit. Then I got a job at Home Depot. More carts. I quit that job too. I got to be on the TV show Born this Way and love it so much. I give speeches to groups all over the country, and now in other countries because I spoke in Canada too.

I told my mom that my speech was boring and told her what I wanted it to say. She helped me do a new PowerPoint with pictures and my words. It’s called, “It Could Happen, That’s What Faith Can Do.”

And I tell the stories of my big dreams and when they happened and then I say, “That’s What Faith Can Do.” I get the audience to say, “It Could Happen,” when I tell my big dreams to them. One day I’m going to give the speech in Angel Stadium to a lot of people.

After mom and I finished the PowerPoint I told her we needed T-Shirts and hats and mugs and bags that said, “It Could Happen,” and “That’s What Faith Can Do.”

She listened and called her friend who is an artist and she told us how to do it. Mom thought it was a good idea and helped me get the shirts to look like what I wanted them to.

I explained to Mom what I wanted the shirts to say and what they should look like, she drew what I said (not very good) and sent it to the designer and they made it like I said. Then I told them ok, or change things depending on if I liked it or not.

We got the first two and now I keep thinking of things that should be on a shirt.

Mom helped me name the company, “Seanese” because I speak my own language. I say things backwards sometimes and it can be funny. Now I get to be a model too with my shirts, mugs and bags.

I’m going to have a poster and some pillows but those aren’t done yet and I have a lot more ideas about things to put on shirts. Check it out at seanese.com

I wanted a job working with kids and I just got the perfect job for me. I’m going to work at a trampoline park helping little kids and helping with their birthday parties and I can’t wait it will be so fun.

And now I speak to groups, work on Born this Way, have my own business and work at a trampoline park. I think I have a really great life. Now maybe I can save enough money to buy a house on the beach with a pool.

Brad Hennefer

Brad Hennefer is proud to share that he has been employed for over 10 years at Wegmans in Cherry Hill, NJ. In 2017, Wegmans was ranked as #2 on the “FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For” and they have been on the list for 20 consecutive years. Brad works in the produce department, right in the front of the store, so he’s very visible to all of their customers. In 2013, both Brad and representatives from Wegmans were speakers at the United Nations for the World Down Syndrome Day “Right to Work” conference in New York City. Wegmans is a fantastic employer!

Brad is also a very active self-advocate. In 2008, he became the first person with Down syndrome to play two varsity sports in high school. He played on both the Cherry Hill High School East basketball and golf teams all four years, earning four varsity letters in golf and one in basketball. He’s been featured in the national media due to his athletic accomplishments and self-advocacy. In 2016, both ESPN and Fox Sports produced segments profiling Brad and his friendship with J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers to help raise awareness about Down syndrome and to spread the message that individuals with disABILITIES shouldn’t be judged based on their appearance.

Brad has been very active with advocacy and public speaking through his Brad Hennefer Golf for Life Foundation. He has presented keynote speeches and workshops at conferences, hospitals, universities, Buddy Walks and other community events where he shares his journey with Down syndrome. You can also read about him in “Chicken Soup for the Soul Inside Basketball” and “Gifts 2.”

Brad loves working at Wegmans, being a self-advocate, and working with his foundation but something was still missing. His true passion has always centered around physical fitness and athletics, so we needed to find a way to channel that passion into something empowering that he could do for the rest of his life. It was important that it be something that still allowed the time freedom for his other endeavors and something he could do from home without transportation challenges.

In 2016, Brad became an entrepreneur! He’s the first “Ambassador” for Plexus Worldwide who has Down syndrome. Plexus is a health and wellness company that utilizes network marketing to share their products. Through social media and other marketing, Brad shares his own personal success with the Plexus products as well as the business opportunity. He hopes to empower other families to creatively tackle the challenges related to staying physically fit and healthy, but to also build a residual income. Brad now has the best of both worlds including traditional employment that he loves at Wegmans, combined with a home-based network marketing business. You can easily follow Brad on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by searching on #EntrepreneurDownSyndrome.

Becky Bierwas

Hi! My name is Becky Bierwas and I am the owner of designedbylove floral. I wanted to share a little bit about my business with you and the heart and vision behind it, myself and why I want to work with individuals who have Down syndrome.

designedbylove was a company I started in 2010 while living in Arizona. While it didn’t start off entirely as a floral business back then, the premise of the business and the symbolism behind the name still rings true seven years later. designedbylove floral is a start-up floral business in Houston that solely focuses on delivery and floral subscriptions as well as teaching floral design to individuals with Down syndrome in day school programs. The mission for the business is simply, “We’re not just in the flower business, we’re in the business of changing lives!” The vision and dream I have for this company is to be able to own a delivery business where I can employ individuals with Down Syndrome here in the Houston area as floral designers. I am not only an advocate for those who have Down syndrome, but it’s also something that has touched me personally, having nannied a little girl with Down syndrome.

designedbylove’s meaning, is simply that. We are ALL designed and created by love! If I can provide an opportunity to give those who are often overlooked and underemployed work opportunity and teach them a new trade and skill set, while being able to play with flowers and bless my clients with pretties to look at, why would I not go for it?!

Thus far, I have successfully taught three floral workshops to the Education4Life (E4L) participants at the Down Syndrome Association of Houston (DSAH). The first was “New Year, New Trade” and the second was Valentine’s Day themed, “Share the Love, One Flower at a Time.” Each workshop all participants were shown basic floral design techniques that they replicated, and with some direction and guidance they all successfully participated in creating their own floral arrangements that had been pre-ordered by those in our Houston community. The third collaboration was “Celebrating Abilities” Floral Workshop with DSAH on World Down Syndrome Day.