• Miles Evans
  • Tyler Huisman
    Cleaning Services
  • Jordan St. John
    Coffee Retailer
  • Kelley Rouse
  • Jake Pratt
    Essential Worker
  • Kristina Kinsey
    Coffee Retailer
  • Raquel Caramello
  • Daniel Blackwell
  • Kei’Arie Tatum
  • Corissa Anderson
    Model and Actress
  • Maxine Simeone
  • Ethan Holt
  • Zachary Cooper
  • Joel Loer
  • Lindsay Holcombe
  • Kyle Stumpf
  • Minal Rosenblum
  • Julia Tyler
  • Sam Anderson
  • Bethany Wissler
  • Faith-Christina Duncan
  • Matthew Hessburg
    BBQ Owner
  • Matt Randsdell
  • Kelly Neville
    Jewelry Maker
  • No Rulz Art LLC
  • Katie McNamee
  • Nellie Frank
    Office Assistant
  • Stephanie Crane
    Coffee Retailer
  • Stephanie DeCicco
    Customer Service - Old Navy
  • Trista Kutcher
  • Charlie French
  • Jordan Caira
    Customer Service
  • Colton Vazquez
    Customer Service
  • Faith-Christina Duncan
  • Craig Blackburn
    NBA Team Equipment Manager
  • Gabi Angelini
  • Shannon Dieriex
  • Alex Kowalski
    Customer Service
  • Austin Barnhill
    Customer Service
  • Erin Baldwin
    Coffee Production
  • Grace Key
  • Danny Leonard
    Customer Service - Guest Relations
  • Jamie Roland
    Financial Industry - Voya Financial
  • Brandon Gruber
    Customer Service
  • Kayla Campos
    Candle Maker
  • Mitchell Levitz
    Self-Advocacy Coordinator
  • Christina Elizabeth Goedde
    Legislative Intern
  • Gary Furtado
    President & CEO, Navigant
  • Charlie Zawacki
    Mail Specialist
  • Shane Rooney
    Medical Services
  • Joey Agostino
  • Tucker Collins
  • Allison Fogarty
  • Willie Pestolesi
  • Rusty 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
    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
  • 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

Miles Evans

Miles Evans is busy 21-year-old from Glen Ellyn, Illinois who loves to work. Miles began volunteering at age 10 as a way to give back and gain job skills. He spent three years as an activity volunteer at a local assisted living community followed by two years as a meal server for homeless community members. During high school, Miles participated in several job training experiences which led him to his love for restaurant work and customer service. Miles applied for his first paid position in late 2018 and was hired at Blackberry Market, a local cafe and bakery within walking distance of home. Miles finds joy in his work bussing tables, caring for customers, and other front of house tasks. Miles and several of his co-workers were unable to work during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, but his bosses at Blackberry Market brought Miles back as a valued team member and trained him on dishwashing and meal delivery to broaden his skills during a time of limited in-restaurant dining. He also works two times a month at a second Blackberry Market location in LaGrange, Illinois. Miles continues his love for volunteering as a Lions Club member, usher at a local arts center, volunteer track coach, self-advocate for National Association for Down Syndrome, and congressional campaign intern. He completes his transition program in 2021 and is looking into inclusive college programs and supported housing.

Tyler Huisman

Tyler is 32 years old & from the Grand Rapids area in Michigan. Most of Tyler’s adult life, he has volunteered at various businesses in the area. He considers this his job and looks forward to it every day. In Fall of 2020, Tyler’s sister spoke with Tim Sobie at Sobie Meats in Walker, Michigan and asked if they had any odd jobs that Tyler could do. Tim immediately hired Tyler to do dishes and sanitize baskets. Tim and his wife, Teresa, both were eager to have Tyler join their team. Their entire staff has been welcoming and so helpful to Tyler. He looks forward to going to work at Sobie’s every Friday!

Jordan St. John

I run Sweet Jordan’s, it’s a Bakery, Ice Cream and Coffee Shop and it’s probably like nothing you’ve ever seen before, because most employees are just like me…special. We all have something to contribute to society and our lives have value and meaning, just like everybody else. I was given less than 5% chance of living. I had major medical issues before I was born and my parents were told at 20 weeks that I had Down Syndrome. Some people even told my parents I should be aborted. My parents knew that God had a special plan for me. He is using my life to change my community and beyond. I believe I and others just like me can do anything, if given the opportunity. So, it is my prayer that people everywhere begin to Focus on Abilities Not Disabilities. Have Faith, Love Your Friends, Love Everyone, and Keep Chasing Your Dreams!

Kelley Rouse

Hi my name is Kelley and I am 21. I graduated from Riverview High School in 2017. I then attended Suncoast Technical College in the ACT program (acquiring community and transition skills ). Through STC I gained work experience in retail, custodial work and as a volunteer at a hospital. I got a job at Rise Coffee Co. and Nye’s Cream shop. I love making coffee and meeting people. I love Rise and Nye’s Coffee shop because they hire people with special abilities like me!

Jake Pratt

I am Jake Pratt, and I am from Vestavia Hills, Alabama. I am 21 years old and I am a Clemson graduate. I am a hard worker and I am organized. I was looking for a job and my neighbors, Joey and Wade, told me I should apply to UPS because they both work there. I was hired by UPS as a helper for the holidays. I have been training with my driver, Richard Wilson, and I am now working up to 8 hours per day. I love my job because I like to see people and tell them Happy Holidays. I like bringing them their packages they are waiting on. Richard is awesome and he has helped me learn everything about my job. I want to say thank you to UPS for hiring me. I hope my story makes people happy and that I can be a role model for kids with Down Syndrome.”

Jake has accomplished so much in his life and continues to raise awareness and break down barriers. During his senior year in high school, Jake gained national attention for earning a spot on the Vestavia Hills football team and scoring a touchdown. The video of that touchdown went viral and prompted many media appearances where Jake was able to promote inclusion and show the world that he, and others with Down Syndrome, are fully capable of achieving their dreams. Jake’s biggest dream was to attend college, and he was accepted into the Clemson LIFE program, where he thrived. Since graduation, Jake has been able to obtain two jobs. He works with the grounds department at a local golf course from 6:00 AM – 10:00 AM. Then, he is off to his second job with UPS delivering packages up to 8 hours per day. While Jake was initially hired by UPS as a seasonal position, his dedication and hard work have already earned accolades and Jake is hoping to transition to a more permanent role with the company. When Jake was born, our family was told many negative things, including the statement that Jake would “never be a functional member of society.” We were blessed to have many people from the Down Syndrome community who reached out to show support and provide hope for Jake’s future. This is why it is so important for us to pay it forward and allow Jake to shine like the superstar he is. Jake is strong, independent, and motivated and we are so thankful that UPS is willing to see his abilities as the individual that he is. Jake has a goal of living independently and we have no doubt that he will continue to make his dreams come true.

Kristina Kinsey

A Fayetteville family has embraced their daughter’s disability and the result is Kristina’s Grinds and Grace, a mobile coffee cart. Kechia and Derrick Kinsey laid the foundation for the business and their son Derrick designed the logo. Aunt Tracee Kinsey oversees merchandising. The entire family is working together to create an opportunity for the star of the enterprise, Kristina, to shine. Kristina is a 2020 graduate of South View high school with a grand smile and a sweet disposition. Kristina also has Down Syndrome. Kechia has always encouraged and advocated for her daughter and now she is making plans to expand their business and provide employment opportunities for other people with special needs. Kristina’s coffee oasis offers coffee, pastries, and a moment of respite from a hectic day. Kristina serves her patrons with a joyful attitude and a twinkle in her eye. Kristina and Brianna Scott, her Disability Employment Specialist, serve coffee on Monday through Friday from 3:00pm – 5:00pm and Saturday from10:00 am until 12:00 at 817 Elm Street. Their mission statement is “Wherever you are planted, bloom with grace”. The next time you need to add some caffeine and a heavy dose of sweetness to your afternoon, stop by and see Kristina in full bloom.

Raquel Caramello

Raquel Caramello is 16 years old, a model, speaker, business owner, and budding philanthropist and community advocate. She is the visionary and creator of her jewelry line – www.RaquelBeautiful.com As the CEO and the designer and curator of her jewelry, Raquel chooses jewelry that will inspire others. “I want others to be inspired and feel positive and beautiful when they wear my jewelry.” It’s not just a business for her. The vision of the brand was inspired by bullying that Raquel endured when she was battling leukemia.
“When I lost my hair, some mean kids called me ugly and hideous because I was bald. I felt bad, and I don’t want anyone to feel bad about themselves. Everyone is beautiful and unique.” Each piece of her jewelry comes with a handwritten note from Raquel that says “You are beautiful.” She has shared the message with over 10,000 people, sold close to $10,000 in jewelry, and donated over $7,000 to new Moms that have had a baby with Down syndrome, children with Cancer and their parents, or nurses and heroes in our community. All sharing the inspirational message of beauty, ability, and gratitude. If that wasn’t enough, Raquel raises money for local and national Down syndrome groups like the National Down Syndrome Society. She also supports Special Olympics, Best Buddies, Morning Star School, and Make-a-Wish. Together she has raised close to $8,000 for causes that mean a lot to her.
Raquel is a shining example that a diagnosis does not define her and despite challenges in life, there is beauty that you can find all over.

Daniel Blackwell

Daniel is 24 years old and lives in Fort Worth, Texas. Following in the footsteps of his six older siblings, he started working as soon as he could and now holds three jobs (!)  At Chick-Fil-A, Daniel is dedicated to supporting his colleagues whether it is lifting heavy buckets of ice or cleaning tables and chairs. He has a reputation for noticing when any item needs refilling and keeps everyone stocked with that they need to serve customers. At Science Etc., Daniel assists the principal and educators and wears many tasks, helping out wherever they have a need! In 2018, Daniel returned to his Alma Mater, The Kinderfrogs School at Texas Christian University, as a Teacher Supported Aid. In this position, he prepares activities, engages with the students, helps keep the classroom clean and organized, and brings joy to educators and students alike with his smile and dance moves.
In addition to these, Daniel gained valuable experience working with Autin’s Underdawgs following graduation from High School!
If you ask Daniel what job is his favorite, he will say “all of it” and his colleagues and family readily affirm that statement.

At Kinderfrogs, Ms. Libby, the Lead Teacher and Daniel’s supervisor said: “Daniel is a valuable part of our classroom. He brings a ray of sunshine with him whenever he enters the room. He adores the children, and they adore him as well. Daniel’s work helps our classroom run more efficiently and more importantly, a lot more fun.

His boss at Science Etc. “Daniel Blackwell is…all things good about people.  He is kind, helpful, happy, friendly, conscientious (above reproach conscientiousness), and diligent.  His “chores” (that’s what we call work duties up here) are always accomplished on time and to the highest standard.  When he is not here on his usual days, he is missed; his absence provokes a feeling that we missed out on something good, and is commented on by students, parents, and teachers alike.  The fact that we can watch him happily dance his way through vacuuming this huge building is such a great gift to us and, as the parents are quick to point out, it is a tremendous lesson for the students here to learn.  He never tells us he “can’t” and always tries out his new duties.  (Did he tell you he was a coffee barista?)  Is it any wonder we all love Wednesdays with Daniel?”
Lastly, we asked his boss at Chick-Fil-A: “He is joyful, dedicated, hard working.  He brightens everyone’s day with his loving spirit and determination to do everything with excellence.  We never have to worry about Daniel, he always gives 110%”

When Daniel is not working, you will find him bowling with his best friend, Jonny,  spending time with his 14 nieces and nephews, and leaving smiles and laughter on the faces of all of his siblings, in-laws, and friends.

Kei’Arie Tatum

Kei’Arie “Angel Baby” Tatum has been working since the age of 3yrs old. Kei’Arie has been included into the entertainment industry as a phenomenal actress & model. Years of working is this field and upon completion of Kei’Arie’s amazing years of school, getting straight A’s, she graduated becoming a Boutique owner of Angel Babies Boutique. Kei’Arie enjoys helping others, spreading more love, awareness and inclusion for all Angel Babies (Special needs) in the world. She has gained the love, hearts and support of many and hopes to continue her liberating journey in respecting and caring for others while gaining more inclusion. Thank you for allowing the Angel Baby Team this platform to share a small token of Kei’Arie Tatum’s victories. Blessings to everyone! We always say “there is strength in numbers”.

-Team Angel Baby

Corissa Anderson

Corissa was hired by state of Maryland as an actress to promote diversity and inclusion in the following two videos



She also was hired in the movie “game change” with Julianne Moore and she became a member of Screen actors guild (SAG). Corissa graduated from UMBC college and was an intern there at the Shriver center as an office assistant, assistive technology lab. Corissa also worked as dance instructor and day care worker who was laid off during the pandemic. Corissa has recently completed training to become a health messenger for her state. Corissa has a diverse background and is seeking ongoing growth in online/telework opportunities since the pandemic, that will allow her to grow in her goal of promoting diversity and inclusion to include someone with Down syndrome and Bi-racial diverse background in the media into the future.

Maxine Simeone

My sparkle life started with headbands. I’ve loved sparkles my whole life, especially disco balls and sapphires, my birthstone. Oh, and of course–diamonds!
I’ve always worn headbands. But, one day, when I was about eight or nine years old, a gem fell off the headband I was wearing. I really liked that headband, so I took my glue gun and fixed the gem back in place.

Suddenly, I saw the vision of my future. I decided to make my own headbands, and I would put sparkles on everything. I’ve been making my own headbands ever since. At first, I made the headbands as gifts for my friends and family. Then, I started selling them at events, like fabulous galas or fundraisers. Today, I’m selling my creations in stores and on my Esty shop, Sparkles by Maxine. I’ve also been featured on the news, which was so cool. I am not shy at all around cameras and have a good time posing and showing off my headbands.

Being the owner of Sparkles by Maxine is wonderful because I love seeing people wear my headbands and hair clips and be happy. Also, it’s good for people to see a lady boss. I love selling my headbands because when you sparkle, you feel fun. You can let go in your mind and just be happy. So, I love to see people sparkle because I love to see them happy. Learn more here: www.etsy.com/shop/SparklesByMaxine

Ethan Holt

Hi, my name is Ethan. I am 17 years old and I live in Florida. I am interested in sports, music, dancing and of course modeling! I swim for my high school swim team and for Special Olympics. I paddle board for Special Olympics too. I got my first job doing a print ad for a local floral shop. I am on Surf Style’s website and also in their store’s light box campaign, www.surfstyle.com/blog-20bc36/. I was Surf Style’s first model with Down syndrome. Here’s my website if you have modeling and acting opportunities for me, www.hireethan.org!

Zachary Cooper

Hello, my name is Zachary Cooper and I am 30 years old. I live in Mooresville, North Carolina with my family. I graduated from Mooresville High School with an Occupational Course of Study diploma. I have been participating in Special Olympics at the local and state levels since I was 8 years old.
For 5 years, I worked at a local pizzeria. When I worked at Johnny Brusco’s at the Lake, I made boxes, cleaned the menus, and filled the containers of the ranch and blue cheese dressing. This job was a lot of fun and my co-workers were very helpful.
I volunteer at a local driving range and a mini-golf course. While there I clean the windows, bathrooms, and sweep the floors.
Twice a week my worker Dawn and I go to the public library. I love to learn about the history of the United States and the weather.
When I was younger I always wanted to go to work with my dad, David. He and my mom, Lisa thought it would be a great idea for our family to open a business together. They wanted our business to be able to hire other individuals with disabilities. My parents wanted me to decide what kind of business we would open. After thinking, I decided we should open a doughnut and coffee shop.
Our business is called Down For Doughnuts and it opened on March 21, World Down Syndrome Day! My favorites things to do at the shop are making doughnuts in the kitchen with my dad and doing interviews. I like talking about doughnuts and Down syndrome.

Joel Loer

Joel began attending a day habilitation program in the Fall of 1989. He was seriously interested in laundry work but none was available in his metro suburb. His Case Manager suggested a job at the Washington County Government Center, creating a position with his day program in the Community Services division.

As a clerical worker in Community Social Services he and his daily job coach work on stuffing envelopes and collating and assembling packets on adoption, aging , child support, chemical dependency and foster care. One of his coworkers said “Joel is a timesaver.” His coworkers also agree he takes pride in his work and he is respected throughout the Government Center. Joel loves his job, hates to miss a day and many have said if they’re having a bad day Joel can help them turn it around.

Joel has lived with 3 other guys in a group home since 1994. He loves to bowl and dance and really enjoys traveling. He’s been to Hawaii, Fiji, the Tonga Islands, Mexico and many US States. He loves weekend visits home to see his Mom and family.

On February 4, 2020 a celebration was held for him for 30 years as a Washington County Community Services employee. The County Board Declared it as “Joel Loer Day.” It was attended by current and retired employees of the County, County Board members, group home staff and family and friends. We are all very proud of this young man.

Lindsay Holcombe

I have been working hard building birdhouses to collect money for local non-profits. I started my business after my former job closed down due to coronavirus. I knew I wanted to keep working hard and helping out my community. So far, within the first 3 months, I have raised over 3,000 dollars for local nonprofits that support individuals with special needs. This month I am donating 1,500 dollars to my local chapter of the Down syndrome Society, The North Carolina Down syndrome Alliance. I want to keep working hard and helping others.

Kyle Stumpf

My name is Kyle Stumpf. I am 30 years old and live in Dubuque Iowa. I graduated from high school in 2009. After graduation I was employed in a sheltered work environment in a segregated setting at sub minimum wage. I worked in that setting for approximately four years. In 2014 I got a job at Papa Johns Pizza in Dubuque. I have been working there for five years now! I love my job! I am making more money and have started to save money in my ABLE account to for the future. I am also a very active participant in the community. I have volunteered my time and go to many events and recreational activities throughout the Community. I have attended statewide conferences on self advocacy as well as Competitive Integrated Employment. During the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses I attended many political events with my Dad telling my story and encouraging candidates to support disability rights. In October 2019 I participated in a legislative briefing in Washington D.C. to tell my story and advocate to end the use of sub minimum wage for people with disabilities.

Minal Rosenblum

My name is Minal Rosenblum. I am 18 years old and I am a Junior at Montclair High School in NJ. My interests are dance, acting, art, and hanging out with friends. Some years ago, I started creating handmade note-cards in my free time. I realized that when I am doing artwork, I don’t feel anxious.

One day, Ms. Wendy Lacey saw my note- cards and wanted to talk about them. She runs an amazing center called Cornerstone Montclair. This is an amazing place. Ms. Lacey believes in inclusion. She believes everyone can have a job when they have a disability. This place has an amazing store called The General Store. In this store, we are all included. Ms. Lacey asked me if I would sell my cards at The General Store. Now I do business there. Some of my note-cards designs are: watercolor flowers, decoupage, and marbled paper, which I have learned to make at the Montclair Art Museum.

My dream is to make notecards that make you happy and smile. Each card is an original design. I have my own business now. It is called True Colors Designs. Soon I will have my website. Meanwhile, if you are interested in buying my cards you can either buy them at The General Store at Cornerstone Montclair or email me at minal.rosenblum@gmail.com if you do not live close by.

I already told you some things about myself but there is one part which you don’t even know. I have a disability. It is Down syndrome. One thing I learned is that having a disability is normal. You should be proud of who you are. Maya Angelou said that every woman is a phenomenal woman. Her poem means that it doesn’t matter the way you look. All women are beautiful in their own way. Women have the POWER.   I have a disability and nobody can mess with me.


Julia Tyler

Dance Happy Designs was founded in 2016 by Julia, Liv, and Emily: three friends on a mission to empower others and celebrate differences through their lifestyle brand. While strengths and abilities may vary, the three founders believe every person deserves the opportunity to forge a meaningful career and have a fulfilling life.

Dance Happy is a silkscreen print studio located outside the city of Philadelphia, PA, which produces handcrafted textile products featuring their original patterns. From hand-cutting patterns to printing fabric to sewing products, everything at Dance Happy is done by hand and with a whole lot of love. Focusing on a refined playfulness, the patterns have an organic but delightful nature to them, speaking volumes to the partnership behind them.

Dance Happy’s patterns are available on an array of textiles products, all of which are made in-house in small, limited runs. Each of the founders contributes to the production of every product made, truly showcasing why inclusion matters.

Sam Anderson

Three years ago in October, we began our “In My Own Words” blog, dedicated to sharing the stories, reflections, and experiences of people with Down syndrome. Since then, we’ve been lucky enough to interview so many truly wonderful people with Down syndrome, and taken a lot of inspiration from all the different kinds of work they do! Please read their stories at: https://www.peoplewithdownsyndrome.com and let us know if you have a story to share, or would like to be interviewed!

“I interview people with Down syndrome because I think their stories need to be heard, and because I enjoy making new friends all over the world,” says Sam.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook @PeopleWithDownSyndrome, or on Instagram and Twitter @peoplewithds

Bethany Wissler

Bethany began taking acting classes and having small parts in theater plays when she was around 6 years old. This really helped her social skills and gave her a desire to be involved in other things. She began cheerleading in the second grade and met her BFF Grace. She continued to cheer and became the first special needs person to be on the High School team. She got involved in different activities with her friend Grace during high school including being in the senior play. She was also the first special needs person to be voted homecoming queen at Whitmer High School. After graduation she got a job as a hostess at The Outback Steakhouse working part time. After about a year working she decided to keep her job but also to go to the University of Toledo through their T-square program. Grace was already attending there too so together they both joined the RockeThon committee. After weeks of practice dancing and raising money they attended the 14 hour day of the RockeThon. She had so much fun, never getting tired. At the end of the night they choose one college boy to be Mr. RockeThon and one girl to be Miss RockeThon. Out of all those students they choose Bethany to be Miss RockeThon. She was so excited. After one year of college Bethany decided she wanted to take acting classes at Starbound Talent Agency. She continues to work, helps in the community and dreams of going to Hollywood and being an actress or a singer.

Faith-Christina Duncan

My name is Faith-Christina Duncan and I am 19 years old. I am the CEO of my own business. I started it with my family over 5 years ago. It shows that an individual with a disability is able to succeed. I make quilts, quilted place mats, embroidery on items and much more. I sell online in my store (www.imperfectcreations.net) and I also work the local Market places. I believe by being out in the community I spread hope and inspiration. I have been contacted by people all over the world to tell me how I have impacted their lives. They see that a disability does not stop me. I talk to about my accomplishments (including but not limited to learning to drive and owning my own car). Helen Keller once said “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” I also work part time at Chick Fil A and attend regular college classes and donating my handmade baby blankets to newborn babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome. I just started making and donating pillowcases for children with cancer.. I am proof of succeeding and being that one.

Matthew Hessburg

Having Down syndrome has never stopped me from pursing my passion of using food and fire to bring people together. I like to think I’ve been spicing up life for my family and friends since birth and it’s time to spread the love.

The life-changing experiences of going to college at Western Carolina University and training at the award-winning Haywood Smokehouse have inspired me to launch Matthew’s Bonfire BBQ. When you taste the sauce I hope you feel love, warmth and comfort-just like being around a bonfire.

Matthew has a burning passion about disability awareness and expanding opportunities for all. Learn more about Matthew and his mission at BonfireBBQ.com or follow him on Facebook and Instagram @matthewsbonfirebbq!

Matt Randsdell

Matt Ransdell has been a dedicated volunteer in the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Healthcare System for more than eight years. He loves working with the veterans and creates many smiles as he greets people with a wave and his trademark “thumbs-up.” He passes out lap robes, magazines and other items to patients and once a week plays balloon volleyball with them. Matt is an inspiration to many in his work that supports our nation’s heroes.

Kelly Neville

Kelly is a young lady with Down syndrome and this company was created to assist Kelly in leading a fulfilled and productive life after school came to an end for her. She loves fashion, style and bling, so what better way to express that than to create fashionable jewelry! Special Sparkle is a mother/daughter team where we work together to design and Kelly makes ALL the jewelry! We have been in business for 8 years and continue to grow and thrive! Check us out on Facebook and Instagram and at specialsparkle.com.

No Rulz Art LLC

No Rulz Art LLC (“No Rulz”) is a 12 year old + for profit business that brings together persons with and without disabilities to explore, create, and work towards meaningful employment. The No Rulz collection of wearable tie-dye art is sold online through the company’s website, as well as in over 20 boutique retailers (including John’s Crazy Socks). Additionally the artist/makers of No Rulz participate in more than 30 market and gift events annually and were recently accepted into the Textile Art Alliance Market of the TAA of The Cleveland Museum of Art.
No Rulz artist/makers demonstrate that all people have value, and that all have skills to contribute.

Katie McNamee

Through the years Katie McNamee has volunteered at Acme Supermarkets and Senior Nursing Centers but from the young age of 13, Katie’s dream job has always been something involving music. After working very hard for the past year with a non-profit organization All Together Now Music, Katie has finally had her dream come true!

She worked very hard for the past year not only singing her own songs but also writing her own lyrics for the songs! To our knowledge, there is not anyone out there with Down Syndrome who has accomplished this wonderful feat! Katie’s CD is titled Power Of The Music and was released on April 27th, 2019! It is available for download at www.alltogethernowmusic.com/katie where you can also find a music video that was put together.

In her spare time, Katie volunteers at a social program for developmentally delayed young adults named Kate’s Place, a program that was started in her honor.

Nellie Frank


Nellie takes part in her local Transition Internship Program for young adults with disabilities. Nellie is 20 years old and has been interning with LendKey for over a year now and graduates from Sycamore High School this year.

As soon as Nellie arrives at work, she knows exactly what she needs to do. Her responsibilities include restocking the snack shelves and entering information from business cards into a spreadsheet that is used for company recruiting. She will use these skills for the rest of her life in her professional career!

Nellie promotes a fun, loving, and supportive workplace environment which resonates with her colleagues at LendKey. Her presence at LendKey means more to the company than just the tasks she completes. Her internship represents the need to recognize neurodiversity in and out of the workplace.

After her internship at LendKey, Nellie hopes to continue to work with authentic companies who support the neurodiverse community.

Stephanie Crane

My name is Stephanie and I am proud to be the owner of 4 Leaf Coffee selling Dreamers Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and gifts to help bring awareness to the fact that people with disabilities can work, lead normal lives, and achieve their dreams. I am a college student learning about business and now I have the great opportunity to share my dream with others and allow people to enjoy the great taste of our products!

Stephanie DeCicco

Our daughter, Stephanie, is 42 years old. She has been employed by Old Navy for twenty years. Stephanie has always wanted to work in the clothing industry. She loves going to work and helping customers. Her boss says she lights up the store!

Trista Kutcher

Hi, everyone! I am so happy to tell you about working. Please follow me @tristathebartista. I have 30,000 followers and I love to make all of them smile and be happy. I make my followers smile AND I show them what all of us with Down syndrome can do. We can work. We can dance hip hop. We can be a good friend. We can have boyfriends. We can be amazing baristas. We can be funny. We can workout at Crossfit. We can be preschool teacher assistants. I show all of that on my Instagram and people are learning a lot and smiling and being happy.

I love to work. I just love it so much. I had my first job when I was 16. My mom and dad helped me make a binder with letters of recommendation from my coaches, teachers and places I volunteer at and I went to the interview with my binder. It helped me tell them what I could do and I got the job at Palmetto Grande Regal Cinemas. I loved it. I got paid and I got free movie passes.


I also got a job at On the Border. It was so much fun and I hung out with the other people who worked there. I also had a job at Harris Teeter. I loved that, too. I had three jobs at one time. My Mom said it was too much and I could only have two jobs. I had those jobs for three years.


I wanted to do something else and my sweet friend Sandy saw I was good with children. Sandy talked to the people at East Cooper Christian Pre-school and they hired me as a teacher assistant. I worked there from 2012-2017. It was awesome. I play with the children and I taught some lessons and I did crafts with them. In 2015, Robin the director of child education at my church asked me to work at BLAST a preschool at my church, too. I worked at both pre-schools. I loved it so much and I love the kids so much.


In 2017, A friend told me about a coffee shop coming to town called Bitty and Beaus and I got excited about being a barista and making coffee and working a cash register. I sent a video interview to Amy Wright the owner and I was the first barista hired at the new Charleston Bitty and Beaus. My mom said I had to give up working at one pre-school. That was hard to do, but I knew being a barista was going to take a lot of my time. So now I work at one pre-school and at Bitty and Beaus. I write happy messages on little cards and give one to every customer. They like it and they keep them in their wallet. I just love working and I love to make my own money. I LOVE my co-workers and hanging out with them after work.

Charlie French

Hello friends! I am an artist. A painter. I have a studio where I paint. I paint shapes. I paint my imagination. I take art classes and watch art videos (I love my online art teacher, Nancy). I sell my work at shows and online and in two galleries. I like to do live painting with my microphone and speaker! Check me out on Instagram @justcharliefrench and cheer me on! Thanks!

Jordan Caira

Jordan has worked at AMC theater for 3 years. She started in high school when all her other friends were starting part-time jobs as well. She helps to clean the theaters, stocks the beverage supplies and picks up the atrium areas. Movies are the best part of her job as she gets to see all of them for free! The staff says that Jordan is a hard worker and it is a pleasure to have her as an employee!

Colton Vazquez

Colton has been working since he was 14 years old!  He had to get a special work permit from the Board of Education to work at such a young age.  He started at a cafe a few blocks from his school.  He would walk down twice a week and work with the barista.  He also bused tables and he served as a host.  He held this job four years and only resigned because he was leaving for college. The restaurant is the Square Cafe; however, he tells his boss/owner on a regular basis that he will be buying it and changing it to Colton’s Cafe.


He then got a union job working at a grocery store Giant Eagle.  He kept his job at the cafe the whole time.  He worked 4 days a week at the store and worked one day a week at the cafe all while going to school. He paid union dues and was a full member. Colton worked at the grocery store for a year.


Colton has always wanted to work with kids! So he went to his former elementary school and got hired to work in their cafeteria.  He worked there for two years and kept his cafe job.  During the summer he worked at the schools ESY (Extended School Year).  The younger kids at the school got to see a kid who had qualified and participated in ESY come and work and serve as a role model for them.


This summer Colton had the opportunity to work on the set of a commercial being filmed as a Production Assistant.

Faith-Christina Duncan

Faith-Christina works at the local Chick Fil A in her hometown of Saint Cloud, Florida. Faith-Christina has been a team member at Chick Fila A over three years! She loves her job and is always learning new things. She been featured on their Facebook page numerous times. She has also been Team Member Tuesday! Faith-Christina works in the dining room and is a condiment bar expert. She is always willing to help the guest and brings a smile and laughter to them. They have loved her so much and she loves being a part of their Team. Her infectious, bubbly personality makes being around her and working along-side of her such a joy!

Craig Blackburn

I am excited to celebrate one year as an equipment team member with the NBA basketball team, The New Orleans Pelicans.
I had worked for 18 years at a grocery store and a year and a half ago, I decided it was time for me to change from a job to a career that I really would enjoy. As an NDSS SAAB board member I was advocating for #DSWORKS® so I needed to practice what I preached and go for my dream job.
I had experience with the sports equipment team during junior and high school. I applied for a position with the Pelicans, had an interview and on 9/5/17 joined the staff of the Pelicans. Every day, I look forward to a new adventure with the Pelicans. I work with equipment, stock team and staff lockers, wash towels and, the best part, do shootarounds with the Pelican team. What a dream come true. I am treated exactly the same as other staff members. I appreciate the opportunity the NOLA Pelicans have given me and I work really hard to demonstrate ability.

Gabi Angelini

Twenty-year-old Gabi Angelini, from Raleigh is starting her own business, a local coffee shop that will employ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “It’s important to invite my disability friends to come work with me,” Gabi says. “We’re gonna have a fun time together and sing and dance a lot.” Gabi also works at Harris Teeter as a part time bagger. She saves her paychecks and puts them into Gabi’s Grounds! You can purchase coffee from Gabi by visiting her website, www.gabisgrounds.com.

Shannon Dieriex

My name is Shannon Dieriex. I work as an actress in Los Angeles and Orange County, I am a member of SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television & Radio Artists). I have done a lot of background work on TV and Film, I was a cast member of Best Buddies the Hip Hop Musical performed at the Fringe Festival in Hollywood., which won sevaral awards. I played the role of Rebecca in the short film called Check Mate which won Best Film for Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Currently I am working background for a Netflix future episodic, rehearsing for Elf Jr. with The Peformer’s Academy and opening bi-weekly for the Sound of Musical at Second City Hollywood with some of my friends from Best Buddies the Hip Hop Musical. I have gotten a lot of work lately and I love it. I get to meet a lot of new people and sometimes celebrities. I also have done music videos and commercials…look for me…I may appear on your TV.


Alex Kowalski

Alex is 22 years old and recently graduated from vocational programming where he learned job readiness skills and independent living skills. He is now working two jobs which keep him very busy! He works for Planet Fitness where he greets guests and keeps the gym sparkling clean. He also works for the Cleveland Browns where he greets guests and passes out the give-aways for every home game and concerts. The highlight of his summer was working the Taylor Swift and Beyonce concerts. Alex is hard working and very friendly. The guests at Planet Fitness and the Browns really enjoy seeing his bright smile each day! Alex also helps out with our family business selling Dreamers Coffee. He helps set up at fairs and is our number one salesman!

Austin Barnhill

I have been working for the Winston Salem Dash baseball team for 5 years. I give out the programs and make people smile! In 2009 I got to throw out the first pitch!

Erin Baldwin

This is a story about our chief coffee roaster, Erin Baldwin. In 2008 Erin was living in a residential facility in the Midwest. She had loved living there, but in 2008 something happened that made her miserable and she pleaded with us to bring her home. So on March 12, 2010 we brought Erin to Westminster, MD. We were told by the state of Maryland that since we were new to the state and so was Erin that it could be ten years before they could help her find a job.
So one thing led to another and we started roasting coffee in our kitchen and then kitchen and dining room as well as having about a ton of green coffee beans in the lower level of our home. Early on we realized that Erin has an eye for roasting coffee. She has keen powers of observation and after watching me roast, she could do it without supervision.
We have grown and now are on Main Street in Westminster. Erin serves as our chief roaster and is responsible for roasting between 350 and 500 pounds of coffee a week. She still has a keen eye for roasts and spots mistakes and successes before anyone else does. She was working six days a week, but we have cut her back to five. She is now 44 and we found she was starting to flag without a Saturday off.
Erin loves her job. She calls our roastery, “My coffee shop!” and she takes great pride in her work. She exemplifies the moniker #DSWORKS®.

Our website is www.furnacehillscoffee.com

We are committed to the Down syndrome community and partner with the NDSS and roast the Buddy Walk® Coffee.

Grace Key

Grace Key is the co-founder, brand designer and spokesperson for Candidly Kind. She’s a 20 year old high school senior who has used writing, drawing and painting throughout her life to express her feelings. Grace instinctively creates happy images, notes, letters and messages of inspiration for friends and family and now she wants to share them with the world. 

Spreading a message of light and love, her first design is a theme Grace herself has truly embodied since birth. No matter the situation Grace always shines brightly. She believes if everyone shines their light no one will ever have to live in darkness.

Grace aims to promote kindness and a belief in oneself no matter what the obstacles. She hopes her creations will remind you to live with authenticity, act with love and treat everyone you meet with an open heart.


Visit https://www.candidlykind.com today to shop Grace’s designs!

Danny Leonard

My name is Danny Leonard and I am 18 years old. I just graduated from Milford High School. I have been going outside from my school to explore and experience different work sites for job training. I applied and interviewed for the Guest Relations Assistant position at the Detroit Zoo. The interview experience was challenging and a fun experience and I got the job! I am looking forward to bringing a lot of enthusiasm to my first job. I have visited the Detroit Zoo since I was a baby and it has always been a delightful pleasure for me.

Jamie Roland

Voya’s support of the special needs community is part of our diversity and inclusion strategy and who the company is — and employees view these efforts with pride. We believe a diverse workforce in which all viewpoints are heard and respected, ultimately makes a more effective organization, allowing us to better serve our customers. Voya has long partnered with the National Down Syndrome Society from a CR and Foundation perspective, and we were thrilled to be able to expand our relationship by offering an opportunity to Jamie through the organization.

Jamie, who started his role at Voya on March 19, 2018, has come to Voya with a “can do” attitude. He is hard-working and adds positivity to the different areas where he contributes. After Jamie had the opportunity to shadow our “Money In/Out” team that oversees much of our mail processing, we discovered how well these roles and responsibilities matched Jamie’s past experience, and we truly had a need for help in the department. Jamie acclimated to both the new assignment and the team effortlessly and his contributions helped to accomplish the team’s daily deliverables. It was a win/win for everyone!

Jamie is partnered with a job coach through New England Business Associates (NEBA). NEBA has provided Voya with educational tools to leverage so we can support Jamie to be both independent and successful in his role.

Brandon Gruber

Brandon has a list of goals.  He changes them all the time, but he says independence is a step process.  Getting a job was at the top this year, but with his travel schedule we’ve discouraged it.  He came to me one day and said, “Dad, it’s time I became a man and get a job like you!”  I said, “need some help bud?” “No, I need to do this on my own.  I may need help updating my resume,” and off he went.  Brandon has always had a love for fashion, shopping and networking. He also loves wearing a uniform or a symbol to feel like he’s part of a team.   His college career assessments always point to sales/marketing and the arts.  Brandon put all these together and scoped out an ideal first job.  Independently, he dressed up, with confidence, walked into Billabong, asked for the manager, filled out an application and was given a short meeting.  She asked him to come back the following week for an official interview with the regional manager.

The manager hadn’t had the opportunity to engage in conversation with a differing ability candidate, so he asked Brandon to bring in my wife at the end of the interview.  His desire was to hire Brandon, but unsure of how he could get around quota’s and willing to learn about accommodations.  He was certain Brandon would fit in with the team and that he would love the fun environment.  Immediately following the interview,  I got a text and picture of the two managers and Brandon standing in front of the store shaking hands.  HE WAS OFFICIALLY HIRED and my the picture captured, a milestone in all our lives. They were excited and welcomed him to their team!  As he was leaving, the manager had one more question , “with or without a job coach?” Brandon smiled and said, “without a job coach please.  I’ve got this!”.  My wife said, “there’s always plan B!”

As parents, we discovered that maybe we had done something right allowing Brandon certain freedoms to grow and enjoy every experience through the years.  He had gained confidence simply by being placed in situations where he had to advocate on his own behalf.  What he has communicated to us both over time, is he wants to get a job so he can work toward his independence.  Which means living on his own and eventually finding someone to share his life with.  We are now on high alert that when he walks through the door one day and says, “I called the moving company and I found a place to live in Los Angeles or New York City”, the plan is already in motion.  His road to independence is in full flight.

Kayla Campos

Hi! My name is Kayla Campos, and I am the CEO of K Bee Candles. Please check my website – kbeecandles.com.

My wonderful life began on January 1991. I have Down Syndrome, and the first three years of my life were very difficult. I spent lots of time in the hospital due to Bronchitis and ear infections. I enjoyed school, even though I suffered bullying because of my different abilities. I’m proud of who I’m and enjoy when I surprise people when they hear me speak in Spanish and English.

My parents and I are very thankful to the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida for the Entrepreneur Academy, where I learned valuable guidance on how to start my own business. Adam, Janet, and all the leaders of the Academy have encouraged each of the CEO‘s and our sidekicks (our parents) on how to keep our business growing. I make the candles in my home kitchen. My candles are made in small batches using 100% organic beeswax pellets. I enjoy making the candles because they are hypo-allergenic, great for people with Asthma and allergies. Beeswax candles are the perfect choice for those of us who want a clean burning candle in our home. I’m looking forward to make my business grow!

Mitchell Levitz

I have worked more than 15 years at the Westchester Institute for Human Development, a University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), affiliated with New York Medical College. As the Self-Advocacy Coordinator, I promote self-determination and person-centered practices; and also coordinate a self-advocacy group that has educational meetings. I also teach medical students, graduate students and physicians; and develop training curriculum on health and transition. I am a liaison to local, state and national organizations. One of the biggest successes of my job was to start a self-advocacy group at our Institute about five years ago. I am the staff member who coordinates all of the activities for “Hear our Voices”, a self-advocacy group of young adults and adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities living in the area of Westchester County, New York. This group believes in advocating for ourselves and for each other; and for speaking up on issues that affect us. We provide a forum to learn about these issues and to develop advocacy and leadership skills. Our members are aware and informed on the supports and services in our community and able to help others to advocate for themselves. Our series of monthly educational and social meetings are held here at the Westchester Institute for Human Development and when we get together, we talk about important topics of interest to us with invited discussion leaders who are faculty or staff at WIHD or are experienced professionals from our community. Some of our members help us to train graduate students and medical students by sharing our own personal stories and experiences.

Christina Elizabeth Goedde

Recently, Christina was made aware that State Representative Lauren Arthur, District 18, State of Missouri, was actively recruiting someone with Down syndrome to serve as an intern with her office. Upon contacting her Legislative Assistant, Pedro P Guerrero, an interview was set up, and Christina indicated her desire to volunteer with Rep. Arthur’s office. Christina started her Intern position on January 17, 2018. One of her duties is to select 1-2 members of Missouri’s Hall of Fame of famous Missourians each week, writing a short informative article for the representative’s weekly newsletter to her constituents. Recently, she was introduced on the floor of the Missouri Senate. Her presence and contributions as an Intern serve not only to advance her personal growth and advancement but also serve to educate everyone with whom she comes in contact regarding the potential abilities and talents individuals with Down syndrome possess. Her abilities to communicate, her personality, her work ethic, and her unexpected talents serve to advance the future opportunities members of the Down syndrome community can hope to have. Rep. Arthur’s involvement in actively providing such an opportunity cannot be overstated. The Goedde family deeply thanks, Representative Lauren Arthur.

Gary Furtado

Charlie has been here 15 years and he has been a treasure for us. He is a great person and a great worker. He is no different than our other workers. We hold him to high standards. He has a job to do and he has to do that job. We have been glad to have him around! He is a great worker, he comes in every day with a positive attitude and a smile on his face. We are happy to have him at work with us! The employees around here get as much from Charlie working here as Charlie gets from working here.

Charlie Zawacki

I work Monday through Friday from 7:30 AM to 1 PM as a Mail Delivery Specialist. When I first started, I worked with the marketing team, then I assisted the lending department and now I work in the mailroom! I go to the post office and handle the mail in the office. I am very fortunate to have a great working life and wonderful coworkers! My dad gave my resume to the boss and that is how I got the job. Other self-advocates will be happy to have a job in the community. I am happy to be at Navigant! I am very proud of my work and my job!

Shane Rooney

Shane works full time at Anderson’s Pharmacy and Accents in Lawton, Oklahoma. What started out as a part-time job that would allow him some time away from Mom has turned into a full-time job that he goes to while his mother is at work. Some of his duties include wiping shelves, taking out the trash, shredding papers, helping put up medicine bottles, greeting customers, and helping run errands and make deliveries. He wakes up every day and is so excited to go to work and truly loves being a part of his work family! I am so proud of how hard he works and how accepted he is by our community!

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


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.


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.

Rusty 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 Fashion Consultant with her mother Becky. Baily does a lot of live sales and keeps up with 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 in Fashion, 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 all of my employers, Booz Allen Hamilton, CBRE, and currently SourceAmerica, pay me competitive wages, give me full benefits, and include me on the team.  I moved from a clerk position to a career of advocacy. 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.