First-hand experience: Cassie Foster

Cassie Foster is an active parent, committee member and valuable volunteer to the DSAGSL community. As a conference committee member and someone who has attended multiple conferences in the past, she is especially excited about the topic of this year’s conference – Transitions: Ages & Stages. Register online today!

The 2013 Family Conference, Transitions: Ages & Stages, is quickly approaching! The Family Conference is one of the most valuable programs for the Down syndrome community. The conferences have always given my family new insight, educational knowledge and the tools to use, as we move through the natural stages of life. After each conference I leave inspired, confident and eager to use the many tools, ideas and information presented. I can truly say that with each conference I take away a personal wealth of new resources and a broader support circle of families and educators.

This year’s conference presenters are experts in the area of educating individuals with intellectual disabilities, their families and the community. I hope to see you all on Saturday for a very uplifting inspiring conference presented by the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis!

Cassie Foster
Mother to Vaughn Foster
Conference Committee Member and Educational Committee Volunteer 

Transitions: Ages & Stages

The topic for our 2013 Family Conference is one that poses a lot of questions – we want to help you find answers!

Transition is difficult for everyone. Change can be hard. As a parent, you want to know you are making the best choices for your child and ensuring that all of the transitions in his or her life are as smooth as possible. There are so many things to think about, especially when you have a child with a disability: Is this the best education for my child? How do we set appropriate goals for him? Will she find employment when she graduates? How do we support him in independent living? Luckily there are a tremendous amount of resources for individuals with disabilities and their parents, caretakers and educators. In preparing for the upcoming DSAGSL family conference, Transitions: Ages & Stages, on March 2, I have learned about all of the resources available to make transition easier. There are a wide array of amazing organizations in the greater St. Louis area that offer support throughout an individual’s life, from early childhood development to career training and independent living. There are also wonderful books and online resources that offer best practices, tips, and tools.

One such book is The Down Syndrome Transition Handbook by Jo Ann Simons. Jo Ann Simons, M.S.W. is well known in the area of intellectual disability and her commitment has enriched the lives of countless individuals. She is currently the President/CEO of The Cardinal Cushing Centers, Inc. and sits on the Boards of the National Down Syndrome Society and of LIFE, Inc. The Down Syndrome Transition Handbook helps parents prepare their child for independent adult life. It’s full of practical tips and step-by-step instructions to help families envision their child’s future, develop a transition plan, and implement it. There’s also a wealth of information about adults in their twenties or thirties living at home who are still struggling with finding a job, locating housing, or establishing a meaningful life in their community, and who could achieve more independence with the right guidance and supports. The DSAGSL is thrilled that we can bring Jo Ann to town next week for our annual family conference and we are sure that both her keynote presentation and her workshop will offer inspiration and valuable tools for participants.

In addition to Jo Ann, national speaker Stacy Taylor, MA, B.C.B.A will be providing tools for early childhood learning and practitioner/parent collaboration to maximize your child’s progress. Local experts Evonne Weinhaus, LCSW, LPC, Joann Noll, M.Ed., Peggy Cassani, M.A. Ed., and April Regester, PhD, M.A. will also be conducting interactive workshops and keynote presentations on topics from using the Match and Move Method to peer supports and maximizing your child’s independence. For more information about our speakers visit the DSAGSL website.

In raising my brother, Andrew, who turns 27 next week (Happy Birthday Drew!) and has Down syndrome, my parents explored so many options, had so many questions and were always reaching out to others for support and advice about important transitional issues. My family was lucky enough to connect with many of the valuable resources our region has to offer and, as a result, Andrew has a very active social and professional life. The DSAGSL wants to ensure that all of our members are connected as well, and our family conference, Transitions: Ages & Stages on March 2, is just one of many ways we hope to support you!

As Jo Ann Simons states,

“The weather is a great metaphor for life, especially the many transitions for individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the professionals who support them. Sometimes the weather is good, sometimes it is bad, and while there isn’t much we can do about the weather there is much we can learn from some people who found that while transitions might bring some rain, there are often rainbows. And these rainbows last.”

We look forward to seeing you on March 2 at our 2013 Family Conference!

Click here to register for our conference and get early bird pricing before 2/25

Erin Suelmann
DSAGSL Director of Programs and Services

Event recap: ARCH-Stravaganza

This past Saturday, February 9, the people at the St. Louis Gateway Arch were kind enough to open their doors to our organization to host our first ever private family event at the Arch – we deemed it our ARCH-Stravaganza. Over 350 people enjoyed a free night exploring the Arch, experiencing the Museum of Westward Expansionthrough fun activities, listening to music and dancing the night away and just generally enjoying time with their loved ones. All in all, the event was a blast for all involved. Emily, who has Down syndrome, attended the event with her grandparents and her mom, Beth Diveley, wanted to help us share the details of the night with everyone:

Emily, enjoying the ride to the top of the Arch.

My daughter, Emily, had a wonderful time with her grandparents attending the ARCH-Stravaganza put on by the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis.  They have taken her to other DSAGSL events and by far I think they all enjoyed this one the most.  Emily’s favorite part, which is not surprising, was being all the way up at the top of the Arch and seeing ‘Daddy’s work’ – generally, anything downtown is Daddy’s work, but this time she could actually see the building!  She kept climbing to the windows and even pointed out where the Cardinals play.  Grandma said it was fun to see Emily climbing in the tents with the other kids and watching the puppet show.  It was a great educational opportunity for her, too, because some of the exhibits were in line with things she has studied in school. What a fun way to reinforce what she has already learned!

Grandma enjoyed seeing all of the other children getting to enjoy each other and was so impressed with the staff at the Arch, how kind and helpful they were, as well as all of the young volunteers – there were so many of them!  Thank you to the DSAGSL and the Expansion staff at the Arch for a wonderful evening for our kids!

Beth Diveley, Mom to Emily

As an added bonus, you can find pictures from the ARCH-Stravaganza on our Facebook page here!

Becoming a Down Syndrome Education Specialist

Robyn Rogers talks about her experience as a graduate of our Down Syndrome Education Specialist program

In May, 2012 I took a huge leap and retired as an ECH teacher after 35 years.  I loved teaching, however, it was time for a change and I was excited to embark on a new career challenge as an educational consultant.  In this position, I wear many hats: as a teacher mentor, staff trainer, inclusion facilitator, parent liaison, homebound instructor and now a Down Syndrome Education Specialist for a three-county special education district in southern Illinois.

I was both anxious and a little apprehensive about making the commitment to spend four days in trainings to become a Down Syndrome Education Specialist through the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis, but after the first session my co-worker and I knew that making the two-and-a-half hour trip to St. Louis was going to be well worth it.

The organizers were friendly and welcoming, the facility was easy to find, the speakers at every training were engaging and shared useful information, the handouts will serve as a great source of reference and, of course, the lunches we were provided were delicious!

As a teacher mentor and staff trainer, I am able to share my knowledge concerning the learning needs of students with Down syndrome with new teachers and will also be conducting some mini-workshops for teachers this summer.  As I work as an inclusion facilitator, the information I gained through the Down Syndrome Education Specialist program regarding inclusion and social opportunities and curriculum modifications/adaptations has been very helpful.  And as a homebound instructor of a student with challenging behaviors, I have referred to my handouts from the Behavior Solutions training several times.

During my 35 years as a teacher, I attended many workshops but I definitely feel that these trainings were among the best!  Because I was so impressed, I have already shared the information about the upcoming Down Syndrome Education Specialist program with my supervisor and I am encouraging my school district to send additional staff to take advantage of this great learning opportunity.

Thank you to the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis for continuing to provide support to teachers of students with Down syndrome and their families through this ongoing program.

(If you want to be part of the program in 2013-2014, complete and return the application here.)

Robyn Rogers, Educational Consultant
Tri-County Special Education District
2012-2013 DSES Program Graduate
Murphysboro, IL 

It must be fate

The newest addition to the DSAGSL family talks about her past, present and the bright future she sees ahead

With the New Year well under way I can’t help but reflect on where I am, how I arrived here, and what I hope to accomplish in the future.  What a wonderful time to celebrate great accomplishments and set new and exciting goals!

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to serve my community and work in an environment where I could provide support to others. I wasn’t sure what that kind of job would look like or how exactly I would get there, but I pursued my dream first by getting my degree in public health and then by volunteering and working in the nonprofit sector. I have been fortunate enough to work with and for amazing individuals managing community programs in Colorado and Arizona; however, throughout all my time in school and the workforce, there was something missing. That something was my family.

I had been away from my hometown St. Louis for over a decade and I missed my family! So, I decided to come home last year to live and work. Family has always been the most important thing in my life especially because of my brother, Andrew. Andrew is 26, has Down syndrome and is absolutely the most amazing person I know. So much of what I have learned about life, patience, empathy, humor, love, and perspective has come from Andrew. You can’t imagine how thrilled I was when the position of Director of Programs and Services at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis became available. I have told so many people that I think this must be fate. This is what I am meant to do.

I began working at DSAGSL in December and have loved every second since. I have been blessed to have the continued support of the amazing Linda Kronmiller, former Education Program Coordinator, as well as the rest of the dedicated staff, board and members.  So many wonderful programs and services are already in place at the DSAGSL such as our annual conference, Down Syndrome Education Specialist Program, Lydia Cox Memorial Bike Camp, holiday party, family picnic, new parent support, community groups and resource library. The most exciting part of my job is that not only do I get to keep our already successful programs running, I also get be creative and collaborative in order to take them to even greater heights!

There is such a great foundation at DSAGSL – one of trust, reputability, integrity and service – that forming new partnerships and expanding our programming should be nothing short of thrilling. My plans include hosting more programs and special events for adults with Down syndrome, expanding our health care professional outreach, increasing our number of community presentations, cultivating new partnerships, and growing our community groups.  I have so many goals for 2013 and beyond, but in short, it is to make sure every greater St. Louis community member – from family member to educator to health care professional to business owner – has the information and resources they need to join with the DSAGSL in ensuring all individuals with Down syndrome can reach their full potential.

I am here for you, so please contact me at erin@dsagsl.org if you have questions, concerns or ideas. I am thrilled to be here and cannot wait to work with all of you to make our goals a reality!