March 21 designated to raise awareness of Down syndromeWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Kaiden Rogers does a great elephant impression, loves pizza and tossing the ball outside. His favorite movie is “The Wizard of Oz” and he’s quick to smile. He is like many 5-year-olds, except that he has Down syndrome.
His mother, Sherri Rogers, has been president of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Toledo (DSAGT) for three years. One way to honor March 21, Worldwide Down Syndrome Day, and individuals like her son, is to “just take a step back and look at people as individuals. Remember that they’re all human beings and everybody deserves the same things that everybody else does,” Sherri said.
Sherri and husband Justin Rogers didn’t know Kaiden had Down syndrome during her pregnancy.
“Right at delivery, they said they thought he had Down syndrome,” she remembered. Shortly after Kaiden’s birth, Sherri became secretary of DSAGT before moving up to president.
Having Kaiden has changed her perspective in many ways.
“The reality of it is it opened my eyes to be a lot more open-minded, accepting, noticing people for who they are, not their diagnosis. It definitely made me a lot more compassionate for the special needs community. I mean, I was not an advocate for anything before,” she said.
Sherri also works for the United Way Family Information Network with special needs families.
In her position with DSAGT, Sherri oversees several events, organizes advocacy efforts and provides information and support to families. The group serves about 430 families in the Northwest Ohio area, a bit smaller than groups in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, but Rogers has high hopes.
“Even in the past five years I’ve been involved with the Down Syndrome Association, we’ve grown so much and added so many new things. We’re not quite with the rest of them, but we’re working toward it,” Sherri said.
DSAGT also organizes a spring golf outing and the Buddy Walk in October to raise awareness and funds.
The Rogerses haven’t had many issues with the Toledo community’s acceptance of their son.
“For the most part, everybody’s very accepting of him. He has a great personality,” Sherri said.
What Kaiden gets noticed for most is his shock of red hair.
“Everybody always talks about his red hair. When people see him, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at that little redhead,’” Sherri said with a laugh. The 5-year-old begins kindergarten this fall. To donate to DSAGT or learn more, visit www.dsagt.org.
March is also Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. The month kicked off with self-advocates from across the state, including about 20 people from Lucas County, traveling to the Ohio Statehouse Atrium on March 1. Ohio Public Images, an information and advocacy group out of Toledo, along with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities sponsored the kickoff celebration.
“Each year, the statewide kickoff event reinforces the fact that once we focus on the abilities of all citizens, we all benefit. By welcoming people with disabilities as equal community partners in the workforce, as well as in our schools and neighborhoods, our communities will be stronger,” said Lon Mitchell, executive director of Ohio Public Images.
According to REM Ohio, a group that provides services and support to those with developmental disabilities, getting to know someone with special needs is a good way to celebrate the month. “The best way to get to know somebody [with special needs] is like getting to know anybody in the community. They have hopes and dreams just like you and me,” said Jim Oliver, director of REM Ohio’s Toledo location.
Toledoans can also attend several events put on by various groups throughout the month:
- Barbara McKenzie, who has a daughter with a developmental disability, is also the author of “Reflections of Erin: The Importance of Belonging, Relationships, and Learning with Each Other.” She was slated to host a free presentation at 11 a.m. March 16 at the Sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, 1526 E. Wooster St., Bowling Green.
- Hope United Methodist Church will present a “Round and Square Dance” at 7 p.m. March 24. All proceeds will benefit Sunshine, a nonprofit offering support services to those with developmental disabilities. Tickets will be available at the door and cost $10 for adults and $6 for children. For more information, call Lindsay Graham at (419) 392-6868.
- A workshop “Customized Employment for Persons with Developmental Disabilities” is 6:30 p.m. March 28 at the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities Family First Zone, 1155 Larc Lane. This presentation is free, but registration is required with the Autism Society of Northwest Ohio. Visit support.autism-society.org to learn more.
Tags: Barbara McKenzie, developmental disabilities, Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, Down Syndrome, Down Syndrome Association of Greater Toledo, Jim Oliver, Lon Mitchell, REM Ohio, Sherri Rogers, Sunshine, Worldwide Down Syndrome Day