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“All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players . . .”

Nowhere do Shakespeare’s words ring more true than in England, and here too, we anticipate with excitement the roles people with Down syndrome will play even more fully in the future!

One of Sam’s passions is for travel, so here (for anyone who’s interested) are Sam’s top 10 things not to miss when visiting England:

1. The Tower of London with all the armor

2. The village of Hawkshead (where William Wordsworth attended grammar school from 1779-1787).

3. Hiking Tarn Hows (What in tarnation is a tarn? “A small steep-banked mountain lake or pool,” according to Merriam-Webster.)

4. Having “Hairball” (Herbal) Tea at Westminster Abbey

5. Attending the “heavenly and beautiful Choral Evensong” at York Minster

6. Walking the historic gates and walls at York, some dating back to Roman times

7. Watching actors reenact scenes from Shakespeare’s plays at his birthplace

8. Meeting the Romans in person at the hot springs at Bath and dressing up in Roman style

9. The beauty of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle (site of the most recent royal wedding).

10. Hiking alongside sheep, donkeys, and cows in the Lake District thanks to public footpaths

 

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“My favorite show of all time is this one, because ever since I was five, I’ve always dreamed of being Julie Andrews. She’s an amazing person,” says Allie Reninger, 25, who will play Mary Poppins in the groundbreaking UPS for DownS Theater Company/EDGE of Orion production of Mary Poppins Jr., coming this week.

This is Allie’s 18th theatrical role, and the Schaumburg resident and recent graduate of the Harper College Career Skills Institute says of being involved in theater, “It has given me a lot of confidence.”

Allie notes there is something special about acting in an inclusive environment. “My director is really accepting. He couldn’t be more wonderful. And I also feel so lucky to be working with my friends. I want [audiences] to walk away with happiness, love, and joy . . . and to be encouraged to try theater themselves.”

In five years, Allie says, “I would like to live with my friends, and to continue to do theater, and I want to have a business. I’m not sure exactly what, but maybe an art business, like selling art kits for kids.”

In the meantime, Allie is currently job searching. “I would like to work with kids and in theater. I have done childcare at Hoffman Estates High School and I volunteer and KinderCare twice a week. I help the kids with their shapes and colors and table manners, and I also help with putting them down for naps.”

That Allie has continued in child care is a wonder, since her worst inclusion experience happened during a child development class she took in high school. “When I was in high school, there was a teacher in the child care and she was not very encouraging and was not supporting me in the classroom. She didn’t think I could work in child care.”

Since then, Allie has been volunteering at KinderCare for two years, and we loved her response when we asked what she’d like to do to make the world more beautiful: “I would like to help the world see who we are. I would like them to see that we can do anything,” she says, adding, “It’s OK to be different. I love what I do, and I want everybody to be accepted in the world.”

Break a leg this week, Allie! And always keep right on shining!

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“This is my favorite job,” says Italian-born Sara Brinkman, 20, whose bright smile has been welcoming guests to Honey-Jam Café in Downers Grove since January. A first-year student in the District 99 Transition Program (through which she found her job), Sara was thrilled to be hired on as a regular employee at the café this summer. “When I did my interview, the owner sat down and talked to me politely. It’s my dream because I was thinking about saving my money.

“I’m the host,” she explains, “I give people their menus, fold silverware, help the waitresses with the food and drinks, and when customers bring me their receipts, I use the cash register to click the number for their table, and they give me their money or I slide their card. I love it here because they are so nice to me.”

Sara already had a bit of experience after working as a cashier at a camp store last summer. 

Born at a U.S. military base in Italy, Sara waited a long time to return to the land where she spent her first two years. With three sisters and a brother born at three other military bases in the U.S., Sara’s visit to her base was the last, because it was furthest away. “We went to Italy for Christmas last year,” she says. “That was my happiest moment because it is my favorite base, and I got to see where I was born and speak Italian.”

Sam loved looking through Sara’s scrapbook from her trip to Italy, and hearing all about her life! Here’s the rest of Sara’s interview:

How do you like the transition program, and what have you learned so far? "I like it so much! I work really hard. I clean the dishes, cook food, do housekeeping, sort recycling, fold the laundry, and clean the kitchen—wiping down the chairs and the tables. I love school because I love talking to my friends and to my teacher. The worst part is cleaning the garbage. It’s hard to focus on that because I have to be careful not to get the garbage on my hands.

"I also do a swimming lesson at the YMCA, or run on the treadmill."

Tell us about the classes you’ve taken at College of DuPage. "At COD, I am learning how to babysit kids in a childcare skills class. I also took a class for office skills. I’m really good at typing on computers, and I do like making copies. For that class I also had to take a test, and I worked really hard and practiced my flash cards on my computer to study for the test."

What do you like to do in your free time? "In high school, I did gymnastics all four years. I can do a back flip, a cartwheel, a handstand, and a floor routine. We just had a party in the cafeteria for my friend who just graduated. I do love gymnastics. I also do track and basketball. I love basketball. And I watch Netflix and YouTube—those are my favorite activities to do on my laptop."

What do you like to do with friends? "I like to hang out with my best friend from my gymnastics team. I love to see movies, or do Laser tag. I love my friends because they are sweet to me."

What’s the accomplishment of which you are most proud? "I am proud to be independent. I work hard so that when I go to college, I can clean my room and do my laundry and cook by myself. I need to be organized like my sister.  One of the things I love most is being independent—like when I took a plane trip by myself to see my aunt this summer."

Who are the most important people in your life and why? "I love my friends and my teachers. They are so unique. I love my family so much—my mom is the best. I also love my brother and sisters. They are my favorite siblings." 

Who do you admire? "My favorite is Justin Bieber. He’s so fun, and I love watching the DVD about him. 'Never Say Never' is my favorite show. I went to his concert for my birthday a few years ago–I started crying because I love him and I have his poster. I also went to a JoJo concert a couple months ago, and she bent down and touched my hand. That made me speechless!" 

What do you think people should know about you? "I’d like to continue to travel, to go to Germany with my cousin; and I also would like to go to Buenos Aires and maybe to Africa. Also, I do art, and I love to dance and sing."

What does Down syndrome mean to you? "It makes me happy and I love it. It makes me proud of myself." 

Tell us more about your goals for the future. "I need to focus on my school. I need to be kind and polite to everyone in my life. I would like to go college, and maybe get a job at an Italian pizza place!" 

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“It’s always good to be me,” says Julia Neri, 23, who landed her dream job working as a cashier at Target. “I still like it. I love my people that I normally work with. My co-workers and my manager have been really good to me. I get to see a lot of people that I know, including my old teachers and my principal.”

Now Julia’s got her sights set on the next goal—becoming a front-end manager! “They watch all the front lanes. Whenever they [cashiers] have their light on, I would come over to help them—like if they need a state I.D., or want to use WIC check or tax exempt letter. I would also help at guest services with customers who are upset and mad. I can handle anything. I am a people lover.”

The day we spoke, Julia was to begin training at guest services the very next day. “They have to see if I can multitask,” she explains. When asked if she was nervous, Julia said, “Not really. I’m excited.”

Although Julia doesn’t drive, she gets herself to work independently. “I take Lyft if my Uber doesn’t work,” she says.

So far as Julia’s is concerned, Down syndrome simply means, “Being normal.” And when Sam asked Julia if there were anything she’d like to change about her life, she responded, “I wish I had a magic pill to take my celiac disease away.”

Here’s the rest of Sam’s interview with remarkable Julia:

Do you want to do any other jobs at Target—or is there anyplace else you’d like to work?  “I want to stay here. This is my Target family. They give me respect. They make me feel like I’m at home here.”

Tell us about some of your happiest moments in life. “I have a lot of happys. I like to hang with my friends and my boyfriend. I like playing basketball and going to movies. I like any movie. I know all the actors. Some of my favorites are Pitch Perfect 3, A Rough Night, Love Simon and Jurassic World.

“My boyfriend and I have been dating for 4 years. He went to my high school. He is the biggest crush I ever had. “

Who’s your hero and why? “I have a lot of heroes. I would say my co-workers and my manager, because he knows everything about how I got here. “

What do you like to do in your free time? “On my days off I like to go swimming. I’m a really good swimmer, and I’m a really good bowler too. I also play bingo at the senior center. I go to Weight Watchers, and to a literacy class. On Thursdays I go to the health center and help my boyfriend coach a soccer team at the Park District.”

What advice do you have for others with Down syndrome? “I would start by getting a part-time job.”

What’s been the hardest thing you’ve ever had to face, and what got you through it? “Probably standing up to people—like if there’s a problem with something.” In Julia’s first two weeks, she had one very irate customer. “I told her ‘I’m still learning.’ But she was just so mad. It was hard for me. Now I know to call my manager for help. I still stand up for myself, but sometimes I do need help.” After that experience, Julia’s co-workers sent her an encouraging card in the mail that said,  “You are awesome! We love you! You are the best!”

Where do you see yourself in five years and do you have any other life goals? “I do want to get my own place, close to around here and close to work. I probably want to get married one day, maybe in 10 years. I want to get more hours for work—probably 40. Now I work 28 to 32 hours a week, but I could work every day.”

A bit more background . . .

After graduating from Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Julia attended the transition program while also taking classes at Harper College’s Career Skills Institute three days a week. It was while in transition that Julia says, “I learned that I’m good at math.”

Julia got her first job at age 18 as an office assistant at the nearby school district. After many applications and closed doors, Julia was hired at Target at age 21. Julia’s mom, Stephanie, says they’ve found that interviews went better with an advocate present, and that “everything clicked” for Julia once she started training to be a cashier, because, “She wanted to do it.”

 

 

Sam was honored to be the subject of a documentary! Sarah Taschetta is a talented local film student who will be attending Columbia College Chicago in the fall. When she asked Sam about featuring him in a short film, he said, "Of course!" Here's the result of her hard work.

Part of what Sam and I have loved about the experience has been reading people's varied responses to the film, including what they have written when sharing the film on social media. Here are a few of our favorites:

"This. Hear people’s stories. Everyone has one."

"'Everyone is important...' Yes, Sam. Inspiring short film!"

"Amazing. Uttterly moved and completely inspired by this."

"Watch at your own risk--it will bring tears to your eyes. Sam wants to honor God and inspire others, and he does!

"We all have a voice."

"This is the best thing you'll watch today."

"This is a great video. So often someone with Down syndrome is treated as incapable of greatness, when in reality they can be someone who is extraordinary. Here is a link to Sam’s blog, which features interviews and posts with some of these extraordinary people: http://www.peoplewithdownsyndrome.com/"

 

Hope you enjoy!  

"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!

SUBSCRIBE today to receive email notifications each time we post a new interview! 

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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.”