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'I didn't have to be on this journey alone': NC groups recognize Down Syndrome Awareness Month

GiGi's Playhouse is a Down syndrome achievement center located in Cary, N.C., captured on Oct. 6, 2022.

When Christina Reaves' daughter was born with Down syndrome, she and her husband left the hospital without any support for new parents of children with Down syndrome. 

“I was having a really rough time, kind of adapting to having a child with special needs, and I met some people that were connected with the North Carolina Down Syndrome Alliance,” Reaves said.

Reaves, now the executive director of the NCDSA, said that she felt much more secure once she was put in touch with other families in a similar situation.

“I was able to get that connection with the families that really knew what I was going through and that I didn't have to be on this journey alone,” Reaves said.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and organizations including the NCDSA are celebrating and promoting awareness through events and activities.

On Oct. 16, the NCDSA will be hosting its annual Triangle Buddy Walk. Donna Beckmann, the organization's advocacy and outreach director, said this year's walk will be held at the Jefferson L. Sugg Farm at Bass Lake Park in Holly Springs.

“The buddy walk is North Carolina Down Syndrome Alliance's largest event and fundraiser of the year,” she said. “We like to do it as a family fun day. There's typically activities for families to participate in throughout the afternoon.” 

During the day, there will also be a "celebrity row" that features older teens and adults with Down syndrome who have businesses and hobbies to promote, Beckmann said.

She also said that NCDSA works year-round to break stigmas around having a child with Down syndrome. 

“One of the goals of NCDSA is that every baby born with Down syndrome receives a joyful welcome,” Beckmann said. “However, with that joyful welcome comes information resources so families can make informed decisions to improve the health care and quality of life outcomes for their loved one with Down syndrome.”

NCDSA’s First Call Program for New and Expectant Parents helps new parents of disabled children get in contact with families with similar experiences. Any new parents of a disabled child can be a part of the program and receive help and guidance for the child’s entire lifespan, Reaves said. 

GiGi’s Playhouse is an organization in Raleigh that offers educational, therapeutic and career-building programs to individuals and their families with Down syndrome.

Nicole Conti is a UNC student who interns at the organization through the UNC School of Education. She said that the organization is planning an event on UNC’s campus in late October to mark Down Syndrome Awareness Month. 

“We'll have participants from GiGi’s (Playhouse) there with snacks and games, and there'll be a big banner to take the pledge to support acceptance in Down Syndrome Awareness Month,” Conti said. 

She said that the group is mostly volunteer-based, so the organization is eager to accept more volunteers to help out.

“We're wanting to get more students at UNC involved with GiGi’s and so, by coming out to UNC campus, it's a way to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month, raise awareness, acceptance and hopefully get new faces and friends into GiGi’s (Playhouse),” Conti said. 

The organization has programs and activities that run every day for people of all ages with Down syndrome. Conti is a literacy tutor and works with people with Down syndrome one-on-one to improve their writing and reading.

@DTHCityState |

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