Gus’ Playground by Penny Long

Gus’ Playground is located in Wilmore Park in South city. The park is located near Hampton and Gravois along River Des Peres. It is a universally accessible playground meaning there is something for people of all abilities to do, even those in wheelchairs. Our Alderman picked Gus because of his special needs and to honor the family of a police officer who gave his time to public service in the city of St. Louis.  That person is Gus’ Papa Gabel who is retired from St. Louis City Police Department.

It is Gus’ playground and he will tell you so….”my playground”.  We actually visit there a couple times a week and last night he had a blast playing will all the other kids as an equal participant.  Awesome to see this happen before my very eyes!

Spiderman and Superman were at the grand opening in August!  Gus stood with Mayor Slay during his entire speech and is attending a dinner this coming weekend at Missouri Athletic Club for a fundraiser for Unlimited Play where we have been told he will be presenting Mayor Slay with an award.

Pulling the ribbon and being the first to run on the playground was super fun and exciting.  It appears that beside the swings, Gus’ favorite thing to do is hang upside down from the low monkey bars or go in fast circles on the carousel that was sponsored by Cardinals Care.

Soon there will be a sign with Gus’ picture from the grand opening and the words “Let’s Play!”

My First Concert – by Lindsey Hawkins

This is a story about a concert.

My mom and I went to a concert last Wednesday, and it was my first time to see a concert. The artist was One Direction.

I got the music for the band One Direction one week ago. It was great music.  At the concert, it was amazing!  It had bright lights and the walk was in colors as they were singing. The tickets were so close to the stage, and the music was loud. There were also fireworks going off in the concert, and they had fog before it began.

The concert was amazing night for both of us.

I am now a fan of One Direction and concerts!

DSAGSL Interns

The DSAGSL was fortunate to have three awesome interns over the course of the summer and wanted to share a bit about each of them!

Taylor Mitchell – University of Missouri
Taylor is a senior at the University of Missouri studying Cross-Categorical Special Education. She is very passionate about the role of positive tools and supports in the classroom and behavior modeling. Taylor has been volunteering in Special Education since she was young and has a unique interest in Down syndrome because of her sister, who has a similar disability. In her free time, Taylor likes to play with her dogs Mercedes and Memphis, visit with family and cheer on her favorite St. Louis Cardinals.

Chelsey Klenke – Missouri Baptist
Chelsey grew up around Edwardsville, Illinois. She moved to St. Louis when she began college at Missouri Baptist University, where she is majoring in Psychology and Human Services. She found out about the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis through an internet search and began reading more about this awesome organization and thought it would be perfect for an internship.  Chelsey says, “There are so many amazing programs that DSAGSL offers, and I knew I would be able to learn a lot from all of the staff. I plan to work at a non-profit organization when I graduate in the spring of 2015.”

Liz Hickey – St. Louis University
“My name is Liz Hickey and I interned with the DSAGSL throughout the summer. What drew me to the organization was it’s passion to help those families and individuals with Down syndrome. The programs and services the DSAGSL provides are amazing, and I was most interested in getting involved with the various programs that are offered. The work that each member of the DSAGSL does is remarkable, and I have been lucky enough and extremely grateful to be a little part of it all!”  Currently, Liz is a senior at Saint Louis University studying Psychology and Sociology. She hopes to continue working within a non-profit setting. She is originally from Chicago, and loves the Cubs and Blackhawks. In free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, being outdoors and reading. Deep dish pizza is her favorite, and she recommends Lou Malnati’s when you visit Chicago!

Back to School by Christy Klaus

Whether you can’t wait to get them on the bus or you have the back to school blues, there are things you can do to help your child with Down syndrome transition back into the school year.

Getting your Student Ready for School

  • Create before school/after school routines – use a checklist with pictures or words to help your child become as independent as possible in getting ready for school as well as after school.  This list can include things like putting on clothes, eating breakfast, brushing teeth. After school list might include snack time, homework time, reading.  Use rewards for completing tasks and to keep your child motivated.
  • Visit the classroom/school ahead of time.  Show your child the important places and how to get there (locker, cafeteria, nurse, bathroom, gym)
  • Introduce your child to his/her teachers and other important school personnel before school starts. Get the e-mail address of each one. Take pictures of each teacher.
  • Create a social story (using the pictures) about going back to school.
  • Create a document about your child (include basic family/contact info, interests, accomplishments, effective social and behavioral strategies). Share this with all teachers/school personnel.
  • Have your child or help your child create something they can share about their summer (using pictures and/or words).

Getting your School Ready for Your Student

Communicating with Your Child’s Team – Regular communication with your child’s team is crucial to success in the classroom.

  • Who -   Teachers, Special Educators, Paraprofessional, Therapists, Nurse, Counselor
  • What – Share information about your child, any support plans, “Supporting the Student with Down Syndrome – Information for Teachers”, summary of IEP goals, DSAGSL seminars and conferences
  • How -   Communicate using a Home/School notebook or binder, e-mail, team meetings, or individual meetings
  • When – Weekly e-mails to the team on Sunday night/Monday morning, if issues are developing intervene early, in May – discuss transition to the next grade, in August – meet new teachers, share information about Ds

If you have specific questions regarding back to school or the resources listed here, please contact our office at (314)961-2504.

Gardening for All by Jeanne Carbone

This blog was written by a representative from the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Digging in the dirt, planting a seed, searching for a color in the garden, sitting very still to see the action of a butterfly….these are all a part of the joy of gardening.  Gardening is, simply put, an interaction between a person and a plant.  That interaction does not require an extensive knowledge of horticulture or a complete set of the best tools but rather what is needed is a desire to engage and a “living” space. 

A child with a disability has the ability to use their senses on many levels to make a connection in the garden.   Encourage a child to make observations by touching, smelling, looking, listening and yes, tasting.

  • Rub a leaf to notice the texture…..soft, smooth, sticky, “hairy”
  • Pick a seed pod and shake it to see if it makes noise
  • Rub the leaves of an herb and smell your fingers
  • Pick a few mint leaves, wash them and taste where the flavor of gum comes from
  • Use color samples to find matching colors in the garden

What better way to connect a child to the garden than to make it their own?  Planting a few seeds of basil in a pot and being responsible for their care can be the start of a lifetime of gardening, for children and parents.  Once a seed is planted, have the child check the soil with their finger everyday…..is it wet or dry?  Water as needed and as the plant grows, talk about what is happening.  The stem is getting taller, leaves start budding, the leaves have a smell to them.  Create a journal to track the growth of your plant and before you know it, basil will be in your dinner.   Harvesting from a plant that your child started from seed is what gardening is all about!

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!