"We make the difference," says Sam Anderson of people with Down syndrome. Watch the trailer for Sarah Taschetta's documentary, told entirely from Sam's perspective, and stay tuned for the soon-to-be-released final film!

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“Most people don’t like giving speeches or presentations, but I love it. I don’t get nervous, even if I am talking in front of 500 people,” says Michelle Anderson, 23, who has come a long way since she discovered her passion for public speaking in high school. Since that time, she participated in a training program to become a self-advocate through the National Association for Down Syndrome, and has spoken at hospitals and medical facilities, as well as at local schools to more than 8,000 students with local public speaker and author, Nancy Goodfellow.  Says Michelle, “I let everyone know that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities all have something to say or share. Many of us use our voices to talk and some people use sign language or other technology, but like everyone, we learn our own way and we have our own dreams, hopes, and wishes.” If you’re interested in having Michelle come to your school, visit: http://www.nancyfgoodfellow.com

Following is the rest of Sam’s interview with Michelle, who is also currently taking a culinary arts class at a local community college to learn the kitchen skills she’ll need to be independent.

What do you talk about when you give speeches at schools? “I share a little bit about myself. I let them know I work part time, give presentations, have plans to continue my education, and I spend time with friends pursuing my interests in fashion and theater. I also do sports and music.”

What’s the best question a student has asked? “Many students ask me what it’s like to have Down syndrome. I tell them that my life is great, and that I don’t know what life would be like if I didn’t have Down syndrome.

“Students also ask me about my friends. I let them know that some of my friends have disabilities and some don’t—I want kids to know that I made some amazing friends in school and they helped me to be a good student.”

What other activities are you involved in? “I’m in a monthly book club, a Bunco club, and I am a Young Life Capernaum Leader. I compete in many Special Olympics sports including basketball, softball, volleyball, snowshoeing, and track. I love my yoga classes and tracking steps on my Fitbit. My favorite activity is going on vacation with my family and friends.”

What’s the accomplishment of which you are most proud? “I am proud that I have been able to advocate for myself at schools, and in my community to help myself and people with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

“I am also proud that I have jobs at Aurelio’s Pizza and the Naperville Park District Riverwalk Café. They are great places to work, and my co-workers are fun.”

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to face, and what got you through? “I lost my dad to cancer seven years ago. Knowing that he will always be a part of me, having lots of fun memories, and knowing that he would be proud of me has helped.”

What do you like to do in your free time? “I like to listen to my music, hang out or text with my friends, and read scripts. I also love making plans with my boyfriend and my girlfriends.”

What do you do with your friends? “I like going to movies, dinner, concerts, and sporting events with my friends. I also love going to WDSRA special events, like the Penn and Teller Show, iFly, and the dances.”

At what moments that you remember have you been the happiest? “Going to my prom at Naperville Central, and to graduation, and going on vacations with my family and friends are my favorite memories.”

Out of all the people you’ve met over the years or read about, who do you most admire? “There are many people I admire and I can’t think of just one person. I would have to include my family, and all the people who have helped me in school, at my jobs, and in the community.”

Where is your favorite place to be? “I love to travel and have been lucky to do some fun things like going to Young Life camp in Michigan, visiting my elementary school friend at her college in Nashville, celebrating birthdays with my girlfriends in Vegas, vacationing in Hawaii and Mexico, and touring sites in Ireland and England. My favorite places include Arizona and Minnesota because I get to see family.”

What are some of your goals for the future? “I want to continue my education and employment plans to help me with independence skills. One day, I would like to be an usher at a Chicago theater.” 

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The road less traveled. It’s a road Amanda Ewald, 19, has traveled her whole life—to find inclusion opportunities. She became the first young woman with Down syndrome to attend Buffalo Grove High School, and to participate on the women’s swim, badminton, and bowling teams there.

 “I hope to be a ‘Super Senior’ there next year,” she says. She and her family believe it will be best for her to stay in an inclusive setting and to continue making academic progress, so we wish them well as they head into their IEP!

Read the rest of Sam’s interview with Amanda below, including her tips for fellow actors with lots of lines to memorize (She recently starred as Dorothy in the UPS4DownS production of the “The Wizard of Oz”).

You did such a great job playing Dorothy, how did you memorize all those lines? “I got the script and mom helped me. We worked on it a few times a week. Every time, we tried to do more. It took about six months to learn all of them.”

Any tips for others? “Just keep going over and over them!”

Was this your first musical, or have you taken part in others? “I’ve been in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ the second one was ‘Guys and Dolls,’ my third was ‘Hair Spray,’ the fourth was ‘Music Man,’ then I was the young Nala in ‘Lion King.’”

Where do you attend school and what are your favorite classes and why? “I’m a senior at Buffalo Grove High School. My favorite classes at school are math and reading. My other favorites are lunch and gym. I’m also doing a preschool class called Human Growth and Development. I like working with the kids. We play games—lots of London Bridges, tag, and Red Rover—and we have circle time.”

What do you like best about high school? “I’m a good swimmer. I do aquatics. I’m on the girls’ swim team, and on the bowling and badminton teams.”

What other activities are you involved in? “I do Buddy Baseball with Brett, and I do Buddy Soccer.”

Who is Brett? “He’s my boyfriend. He was the Homecoming King. I want to marry him. He’s nice and he’s friendly. He’s also really funny, and so sweet. I like text him, and he calls me. We met in preschool, and we’ve gone to six dances together. Turnabout was my favorite because I took a picture in a photo booth with him.”

Tell us about Homecoming. “We had a reception with the principal. We went to the game, and they had a parade at the game. I got to ride in a convertible car with my boyfriend. It was all pink, and it went around the track. We had crowns, and robes, and I got flowers.”

What do you like to do in your free time? "I do swimming, and I like to watch movies with my mom, listen to music, and play on my iPad. I also play a lot of games with my mom, and I love to hang out with my friends.”

Who’s your hero and why? “My mom, because my mom is my favorite. She takes me to breakfast, and to dinner, and to lunch. She also took me to Disney World.”

What are your goals for the future? “I want to be a doctor, a dentist, a lifeguard, and a vet. I also want to work at Red Robin. It’s my favorite place to eat.”

What does Down syndrome mean to you? “I like it, because I do a lot of things with friends who have Down syndrome. We have parties, and we get to do things like go to Waterworks on Saturdays.”

 

 

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For Jamie Brooks, happiness is . . .  being on stage. One of her happiest moments, she says, was singing “Good Morning, Baltimore” in her high school talent show. “The spotlight was on me, and I loved it! I always love it,” says Jamie, 21, who just finished playing the Wicked Witch of the West in an UPS for DownS production of “The Wizard of Oz,” and is rehearsing to play Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” at the Palatine Community Theater this spring. With a grandmother with a passion for musical theater, Jamie’s been to more musicals than she can count, seeing several multiple times. The first show she remembers seeing was “Fiddler on the Roof” when it was on Broadway in New York. “I loved it! I’ve seen ‘Wicked’ on Broadway in New York, in Chicago, and in Kalamazoo,” she says. For more from the fun and funny Jamie, here’s the rest of Sam’s interview:

How many years have you been performing? “This is my seventh year. I’ve also been in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Lion King’, ‘Guys and Dolls’, ‘Music Man’, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, and I was Tracy Turnblad in ‘Hairspray’.”

 Do try-outs make you nervous? “No, I’m not nervous. I’m a very good actor.”

What did you enjoy most about playing the witch? “I loved melting, and singing the jitterbug song. I made it funny.”

Tell us about high school. “I was Homecoming Queen my senior year at Hersey High School. Some of my favorite things about high school were being part of the Dynamite Dancers, the Super Singers, the Super Buddies, and the Spirit Squad, AND the Homecoming game, the parade, and the dance. My friend Brett was Homecoming King—he’s an actor too.”

What’s life like now that you are at transition? “I go to Forest View. I cook lunch, have class, and go to work every morning. I do the coffee cart two mornings a week. I like using the iPad and doing the money. I also work in the food pantry at Willow Creek Church three mornings a week.”

Where else have you worked, and which job do you like best so far? “I’ve worked at IKEA and T.J. Maxx. I like working at T.J. Maxx best because I re-stock the clothes and shoes—and I like high heels and dresses.”

What other activities do you enjoy? “On Mondays, I have singing lessons with Michelle who also helps me with my lines, and with finding pitch.”

What do you like to do in your spare time? “I like ice skating, swimming, snorkeling, tubing, and watching Twilight and Liv and Maddy on Netflix. And I play my songs and dance like a crazy chicky. Some of my favorite songs are from Grease and Abba. I’d like to try waterskiing. And I try to do my treadmill everyday. I get $5 when I do.

“I also like to travel. I like Mexico best because I like the Secrets and Dreams hotels. I’ve also been to the DR, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. In the Bahamas, I went to a water park and went on the big slides. I was scared.”

Who’s your hero and why? “Robert Patterson. He’s quite a guy. He was Edward in the Twilight movie. He’s cute and dangerous.”

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to face? “I miss my sister, Hannah, and my twin brother, Max [who are both in college]. I also miss my dad when he’s gone. Making healthy shopping list is also hard. But I want to do it because I want to be in a bikini on the beach, and I want to get a ‘T21’ tattoo like my brother and my sister.”

Tell us about your dreams for the future. “I want to be on Broadway and live in a penthouse. I also want to be an actor, and a special ed teacher at a day care center. I love kids. I want to teach kids about acting, friends, and leadership. I also want to work at my Uncle Chip’s restaurant as a hostess and a bartender.” 

Family friends for over 10 years, Sara Davis and Connor Nolan started dating about a year and a half ago. When asked what they like to do together, the list was long and varied: “Miniature golfing, bowling, family videos, eating dinner, Wii, playing cards, Jenga, Lincoln logs, puzzles, playing basketball, singing Karaoke, swimming . . . ”

“We are on the same swim team,” says Sara. “So we also have swim meets together,” adds Connor.

What do you most appreciate about one another? Connor: “Sara makes me laugh. She makes me cute. She likes doing stuff with me like listening to music, doing Kidz Bop, singing, and playing basketball.” Sara appreciates Connor because, “He is special, hilarious, and funny. He is so funny he makes me cry. And he is kind. When I get out of the water at swim practice, he puts my towel around me.”

What qualities are most important to look for in a girlfriend or boyfriend? Connor: “Look for someone you want to marry.” Sara: “Someone who likes to help people. Connor likes to help.”

Their families have established a few ground rules. Bedrooms are off-limits. “We are allowed one hello kiss, and one good-bye kiss,” says Sara. “And we listen to our moms,” adds Connor.  

When Sara won Junior Teen Queen in the 2016 Miss Amazing Pageant, Connor was part of her talent competition. “We sang ‘Love Is an Open Door’ from Frozen,” says Sara.

Congrats to Connor Nolan, who will be a sophomore this fall at Downers Grove South High School, where he advanced from Concert Band to playing percussion in the Symphonic Band! He’ll also be performing with South’s Marching Mustangs in over seven marching band competitions, and at the halftime shows at football games.

To hear some of Connor's FAVORITE tunes by Green Day, White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles, don't miss the 2017 Chicagoland Buddy Walk on October 8th. Here’s more from Connor:

“I was in the Concert Band at school this year. I’ve played drums for 9 years. I’m also in a rock band with my twin brother, Sean. It’s called Chrome 47. That’s my favorite.”

What are some of your favorite songs or bands to play? “'Warning’ by Green Day, 'Seven Nation Army' by White Stripes, and the Beatles” 

“My favorite class in school is gym, because I like to play basketball. I play Special Olympics Hoops 99. We got a silver medal in March.

I also like Miss Caffrey’s classroom, learning about the states and geography, and working on projects with my friends.

What are your goals for the future?

“I want to play basketball. When I go to college, I want to study social studies and music.”

For more from Connor, don't miss our upcoming interview about dating with Connor and his girlfriend, Sara Davis, who says, “My hero is Connor. He makes good choices, and he helps my mother.”

Ariana Siannas spent Memorial Day Weekend camping and “Jeeping” with her family. “We got really wet with muddy water. It was like a volcano exploded. I like going Jeeping,” she says, although she adds quickly that home is her very favorite place to be. “I miss home when we go camping."

This seventh grader has a best friend who also happens to have Down syndrome. “We go swimming or horseback riding or play Barbies,” says Ariana, who adds with pride, “I taught Sara to play pool.”

Both girls have been part of the Miss Amazing pageant for several years, where Ariana got to showcase the ribbon routine she learned in Special Olympics gymnastics. “It was so funny. They played the wrong music, so we had to start again with new music.”

Happiest moments? “Gymnastics competitions. When we went to state and stayed in the hotel.”

What’s most important in life? “Our entire family. Going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and to see Ya-Ya and Papou.”

Future plans? "I’m going to be a doctor or a nurse. I’m going to go to college. I’m going to get married and have a dog."