Give me an “H!” – by Nate Jones

Permission to post this article was given by Helias High School.  Article was written by Nate Jones, a reporter for the Crusader Raid Newspaper.

I was asked to write an article about Elijah for our school paper. I’ve known him since first grade so I knew I could write a glowing article about him but then I got to thinking about how many people know him like I do and could write a great piece on him. So with this in mind I asked the seniors, Helias staff, and some of his other friends to say something to him. The responses I got were overwhelming and I’d like to share them in the following narrative.

Elijah Mayfield came from Saint Peter where he loved and was loved by his class. Eighth grade teacher Val Jones said, “People always compliment how well behaved that class is and how much they all get along. I think Elijah was the cornerstone of that.” But after Saint Peter most of the class would go to Helias, but Helias didn’t have a program for special needs kids such as Elijah. The Mayfields eventually worked out a plan for Elijah to attend Helias. When asked why they wanted Elijah at Helias, Todd Mayfield, Elijah’s dad, said, “We chose Helias because of Elijah’s St. Peter classmates. K-8 was great for him and it just made sense for Elijah to spend four years with his buddies before they all went to college. We were able to send him there because of how well his eighth grade class got along with him. They gave us the courage to send him there. We never dreamed he would be as well received as he was. It was a huge milestone in Elijah’s life.”

John Rhea, one of Elijah’s St. Peter classmates said, “I’ve been friends with “Mayf” since kindergarten, and there hasn’t been one day he hasn’t made me smile. He’s the most enthusiastic kid I know, who has the most Sader spirit in the school. I remember we were driving home late from a football game on the bus, about 1 O’clock in the morning, and all of a sudden you hear, ‘GIVE ME AN H!’ He never loses energy, and has a love for Helias like no one else. I’ll never forget his post-game talks after a win, and his jump hugs into the crowds!”

John wasn’t alone in getting pumped up by Elijah during sports events. Sports would actually become one of Elijah’s defining roles at Helias. He managed three teams during his four years at Helias. In particular he was a huge presence during the football season. Elijah energized the team before the game. “When he yells ‘say it loud boys, say it loud’ before a game it really pumps up the team! He helps get our heads in the game!” commented senior Holden Hirsch. He is also getting the crowd pumped up during the game by carrying on the legacy of Leon Vanderfeltz with the classic, “GIVE ME AN H” cheer. Elijah not only pumped up the crowd but also helped out the players. “If I came off the field after a bad play I could always count on Elijah to be waiting with a pat on the back and some words of encouragement,” said senior Christian Hake.

Elijah also made an impression on the coaching staff. Coach Andy Pitts said about him, “He is genuinely happy to see you and see you do well. He really appreciates your presence.” Head Coach Phil Pitts said, “There are so many ways to judge whether someone is a success, but I think one of the greatest ways is to look at someone and ask – ‘Do they have enthusiasm, passion, and love for what they do?’  There is no doubt that Elijah has these things and he teaches us all that we can and should have these things!  Many people tell me that the above three things are some of my greatest attributes, but I can’t hold a candle to Elijah when it comes to enthusiasm, passion, and love!  He teaches me those things and for that I will always be grateful and remember Elijah!  He is everything this school stands for and he is a true Helias Crusader!”

When Coach Pitts said he is a true Helias Crusader he meant it. It seemed like every one of his fellow Saders had something to say whether it be staff or student.

The following are just some of the quotes I received about Elijah: Senior Merlin Phelps said, “I remember when we cleaned the school together one summer. We became good buddies. He is the one who started calling me Mer.”

Mr. Martin said, “If he can tell I’m having a difficult day he shakes my hand and says ‘Mr. Martin I love you!’” It turns my day cheery!”

One of his classmates Alex Schwinke simply commented, “I appreciate his big hugs!” When Senior Jared Rackers tore his ACL Elijah checked up on him every day of school to see how the healing process was going.  “He is very sympathetic to anyone with an injury!” said Rackers.

Jacob Schulte said, “He calls me coz (short for cousin) and he is the loudest one cheering at my wrestling matches!”

Secretary Peggy Rogers got to know Elijah when he helped her out in the office. She said, “Elijah is the true meaning of a real friend. He can be ornery but is always a lot of fun. I’m glad he was here the last four years.”

Elijah was not only well loved by his graduating class. Even freshman like Dane Borovicka say, “He is awesome!” Senior Brooke Harms said, “I’m pretty sure if you lined up the whole student body he could work his down the line naming every single person.”

One of Elijah’s best friends from grade school Becky Roberts has many fond memories of him, “He was getting interviewed by KOMU and they asked him about love. He said he loved me and we were going to get married, but it was going to be kind of a pretend marriage!”

Another one of his best friends Brock Gerstner said, “Elijah Mayfield. Just that name can bring a smile to anyone’s face, especially mine. Elijah has a special gift that nobody else that I know has. He can always bring a smile to your face. He is the most joyful, caring, funny, genuine person I have ever met and I know how lucky I am to be able to call him my best friend.”

Senior Baylee Francka agreed with Brock saying, “I have absolutely loved getting to know Elijah over the last four years! Every time I’m around him, I leave with a smile on my face. He genuinely loves everyone he meets and he is such a blessing to Helias and to the community.” There were plenty of other great quotes about him but for the sake of length I think all the quotes said an unsaid illustrate the point that senior Abbie Verslues said, “Elijah truly embodies the heart and spirit of Helias.

I told the Mayfields about this article and Pam Mayfield, Elijah’s mother, wrote a note showing that not only do we love Elijah and all he has done for us but they are appreciative us as well. I thought it appropriate to end with that note: “Helias faculty, coaches, teammates and parents, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for what you have done for our family. Eighteen years ago when Elijah was born, I was scared. I was scared for us and for him. I didn’t have a clue as to how to raise this child I had been given. I was afraid that he wouldn’t have friends, that people wouldn’t accept him, that he wouldn’t have a good life. But, Elijah is having a great life and you all are a huge part of that. You have treated him like a classmate, teammate, a friend. You have given him opportunities that I never thought were possible for him. From his time at St. Peter to his time here at Helias, you have made a difference in his life forever. He has friends, friends that look out for him. His phone has more contacts in it than I can even begin to imagine having. He has friends that call and text him all the time. He has been part of assemblies, had his own team gear, road on team buses and been able to cheer on his very favorite team in the whole wide world…his Helias Crusaders. None of this would have been possible without the coaches, teachers, students and parents being willing to allow Elijah to share in their school, their teams. I know it wasn’t always easy to include him, but you all did. You made sacrifices so he could be a part of Helias. As his classmates look to their future and what college and career they might choose, I just want them to understand what they have done for our family. They have helped Elijah to have a great life, we will forever be grateful to you all for allowing him to be part of Helias Catholic High School.”

The USA Games – by Lindsey Hawkins

I was nervous about going on the plane for my first time, but I conquered my fears and did it for my brother’s dog, Bentley.

At the opening ceremony, it was amazing! They had loud music, bright lights and it was outstanding. We walked on the stage with Team Missouri. It was an amazing night.

The games started on Monday with average scores in bowling. Then, on Tuesday it was competing day for singles. I made the top three. It was an amazing day for me, and on the same day I won one of my medals for third place in singles.

The doubles in bowling competition was on Wednesday. I was paired with Tiffany for the doubles competition, and we got another medal.  It was a third place medal, and I am proud of it.  We also got flowers with any medals we received!

On Thursday, was the team bowling, and I bowled a score of 150. I also bowled a 167 game and a 165 game. Another day in team bowling, I bowled with a very good partner and we got another third place medal.

On Thursday evening, we went on a cruise, boat ride. The boat was fancy, big and I saw the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  It was beautiful and special at sundown.

Friday was awards ceremony for team bowling and I came in third place for the nation.

This was my first time in New Jersey, and it was an awesome adventure for me to compete in bowling. I met new friends when I was on the journey.  At the end of my trip I came back to St. Louis with three medals from the USA Games, and I am very proud of myself for winning and following my dreams. My medals are so heavy, and I am proud! I am a true champion and an athlete in this sport.

At the closing ceremony, they take down the flag for the last time say goodbyes.  We are all champions in our sport, and I can’t wait for next time!

About Lizzie – by Lizzie Diehr

Lizzie Diehr is one of our awesome, self-advocate volunteers at the DSAGSL Office.  She has returned for the summer to help us out!  Below is a message from Lizzie.

Hello, my name is Lizzie Diehr.  I am very pretty.

I play sports with Special Olympics including soccer, baseball and basketball.  I also swim with my Dad and my nieces and nephews.
Each Monday, I go to Art Class.  I love to paint and draw.

I am going to camp this summer, and I like to hang out with my friends.

I volunteer at St. John’s Mercy on Mondays and at the DSAGSL on Thursdays. I love to eat hot wings, potato wedges and fruit.

Now you know a little more about me!

You Can Never Be too Prepared – by Chelsey Klenke, DSAGSL Summer Intern

Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis hosted an emergency preparedness meeting for individuals with disabilities on April 15th.  We learned it is important to have a plan in place to know what needs to be done in the event of an emergency.  Going through practice drills and having conversations on what to do before an emergency takes place is key.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for emergencies:
-Have conversations with family members frequently about what should be done in emergency situations

-Create an emergency kit that includes items such as clothes, hygiene supplies, food, etc., for every member in your family including pets

-Have a plan on where to get information about further warnings

-Decide on a meeting place for your family members should you have to evacuate

-Look at Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on 3 steps to prepare of an emergency

To find more tips on emergency preparedness, click here.

Step Up for Down Syndrome 2014 – this Sunday!

Letter from Jeremie Ballinger, Executive Director

Dear Friends:

This letter reaches you as we’re gearing up for the biggest day in the St. Louis Down syndrome community.  Step Up for Down Syndrome is just around the corner on June 8 at Forest Park!

If you haven’t been to SUDS…well, why not?  Our volunteers and staff have worked hard over the years to make our Step Up walk a wonderful experience for everyone involved.  We also have a couple new surprises planned this year that you’ve never seen at SUDS before!

Why Step Up this year, or any year, you ask?  It’s pretty simple. This walk is responsible for nearly half of the support DSAGSL counts on every year.  In other words:

-  Because of this walk, we welcome dozens of new families to our organization every year with information, baskets, events and a supporting community that cares.

-   Because of this walk, we’ve trained over 100 teachers this year and are planning to take our training to several new communities in 2014.  We’re also going to educate more doctors, nurses and other medical staff than we ever have.
-  Because of this walk, self-advocates will learn to ride a bike for the first time – and at a younger age than we’ve ever offered.  They’ll play sports. They’ll learn healthy habits and behaviors. They’ll lobby more than ever for laws that benefit them.
- And because of this walk, you’ll see info in this newsletter about new programming for toddlers, teens and adults at our office this summer and fall.  Our vision has always been to be the most comprehensive resource for individuals with Down syndrome. It’s finally happening thanks to you walking with us!

The other vitally important reason to attend SUDS is that this walk is the largest awareness event our city has for children and adults with Down syndrome.  It’s our best chance to show St. Louis that individuals with Down syndrome are loving, talented, kind-hearted people who change every person fortunate enough to cross their path.  This comes as no surprise to all of the advocates, parents, siblings and friends who read this newsletter.  But not everyone gets it.  SUDS is our chance to make that statement in a big way.

Hope to see you there!

Transition Programs and Employment Opportunities – by Liz Hickey, DSAGSL Summer Intern

Finding a job can be one of the most important foundations for a quality life and having a job can improve one’s happiness and well-being. There are many resources that exist to assist those with disabilities to receive a job that is a perfect fit. The St. Louis Arc has employment services that assist people with disabilities search for a job that is a good fit. These services provide initial and on-going coaching, maintenance coaching and works with the employees and their supervisors to ensure successful job placements. The employment counselors work one-on-one to discuss the person’s individual career goals. The counselor will also help the individual test out different jobs at the worksites to experience whether or not that position is a good fit for one’s skills, abilities and interests. After being hired, the employment counselor will continue to ensure that the job is a good fit. He or she will provide strategies that will ensure that the individual is learning while doing the job correctly. Once the individual can do the job independently, the job coach will gradually reduce their involvement. Usually for a full-time employee, job coaching is around 3-6 weeks. However, even after placement and training, the job coach will continue to make sure everything is running smoothly and address any concerns of the supervisors. This is in place to make sure everyone is receiving the support that they need.

To receive these services from the St. Louis Arc, the individual must qualify for vocational rehabilitation services from the Missouri Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and live within the Greater St. Louis Metropolitan area. If you are interested in these services, you can contact your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and notify them that you are interested in receiving employment services. You will then be notified by a St. Louis Arc employment counselor as soon as your referral is activated.

Another resource from the St. Louis Arc is the program Teens in Motion. This is a program that allows participants to explore interests in different job areas, volunteer at certain organizations, attend different presentations, and form relationships. This is a great program that allows an individual to form skills that will last a lifetime.

Lastly, the DSAGSL has the Toastmasters Word Masters Club. This is a group that helps improve public speaking skills, increase confidence, and improve professional skills.

All of these programs are great resources for those who are seeking employment and need assistance doing so; whether that is improving public speaking skills, building confidence, or forming relationships.

Our Problem Solver – by Darrell and Dianne Trower

Receiving the News…
Darrell and Diane each shared their first feelings:
Darrell: We found out Kaitlyn had Down syndrome the day she was born. At that time I was just excited to have a healthy baby girl and was more concerned about my wife and her emotions.  Besides, I felt it was important to take care of the baby first.  Down syndrome was something to worry about later.  When confirmation came a few days later, I/we got serious about learning about Trisomy 21 and taking the steps needed for Kaitlyn’s future.  My wife was Kaitlyn’s champion then and continues to be so.  While I was working, she was calling and getting a case worker, enrolling in First Steps (an early intervention program), buying books, and finding a great pediatrician.

Dianne:  Kaitlyn was my third child so the experience was not new to me.  She did not cry much at first, and I kept asking, “Is she ok?”  Darrell would say, “She is great, really great.”  I did not get to hold her very long, and her brothers did not get to come in to the delivery room as planned.  They whisked her away and seemed concerned.  Now I know they were checking her heart and everything else because they were pretty sure Kaitlyn had Down syndrome. When the diagnosis came, I cried a lot.  I was just not ready to receive the news especially since everyone at delivery had told me all was fine.  Kaitlyn was exactly what I prayed for; a healthy baby girl, a girl with blond hair and blue eyes like her dad.  After that first night, life just moved on much like the poem, ‘Welcome To Holland.’ (read it here)

How We Make a Difference…
We make a difference for Kaitlyn by making sure she is actively engaged in doing what she loves to do.  She loves to be involved in dance, acting, singing in Variety Clubs Chorus and Tae Kwon Do.  Dianne is still her champion in the school system by making sure she is in the right vocational program that meets Kaitlyn’s skill set, personality, and challenges her to grow.

Together, we are active in the community of people with disabilities.  We facilitate and run a group for adults with Down syndrome called High 5 People With Disabilities.  The group participates in the community volunteering and completing service projects around St Louis. We are also involved with the Catch 22 Miracle League and Variety The Children’s Charity of St. Louis.

About Our Kaitlyn…
Kaitlyn will generally try to do anything.  She has an incredible positive attitude and is generally a happy person.  She loves people and feeds off of their support for her.  Kaitlyn is special in that she does not seek to be in the spotlight, but she is she is not afraid of being in it. She is great at problem solving.

Dianne shares about dropping Kaitlyn off in kindergarten:
“When she was in Kindergarten I would drop her off at the curb of the school like everyone else.  I would wait to see her walk in.  She was so sure of herself.  The first day I dropped her was the third day of school, she wheeled her back pack to the door, opened the door but the heavy door closed before she could walk in.  I got nervous.  I thought I was going to park and run up and help her out,” writes Dianne. “Nope, she opened the door tossed her backpack in first and jumped in before it closed.  I was totally amazed.  The other moms were looking for me like ‘Where is her mom?’  But, I thought if she could figure out how to get into school with that heavy door as an obstacle, she would work out other obstacles.”

What We Want to Share…
We think the most important thing when raising any child with disabilities is that you treat them like you would any other child.  Hold the same expectations for them to be behaved, mannerly, work as hard as they are capable, and not allow the disability to be an excuse, but instead be their advocate to allow them to take part in opportunities.  Seek out opportunities in their typically developing peer groups.

Do not continue to baby them when they are no longer a baby.  Love, love, love them.  There is nothing WRONG with them.  They are just differently abled.  Help them find their gifts and talents, because everyone has them.  We are all different.  We are inspired by Kaitlyn every day.  She has taught us so much about being a parent.  Lastly, falling down and making mistakes makes you stronger.  It is ok to fall down.  It is ok to make mistakes.

Megan Layton Receives Christian Pueschel Memorial Citizen Award

Megan received the following message from the National Down Syndrome Congress:

“It’s our honor to inform you that the Board of Directors at the NDSC would like to award you our 2014 Christian Pueschel Memorial Citizen Award. In your many roles, as an employee, a volunteer, and advocate and an athlete, you have emodied the NDSC’s ‘We’re More Alike than Different’ message.”

CONGRATULATIONS, MEGAN!!!!!!!!!