Charlotte’s Story

By Matt and Stacey Cooper

Adoption has always been one of our table discussions, and that is all it has been for the last 8 years– Talk. Our church has a One Less Orphan group, made of couples who have adopted before and are here to help support and encourage others who are in the process. The adopted verse for the group is James 1:27 which says: Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. So our talk was becoming more of an observation.

We have 5 biological children, Blake is 18 and will be a freshman at the University of Iowa in the fall. Caleb is 16, and born at 29 weeks has a very mild form of cerebral palsy but is in a mainstream classroom and participates in band and track. Next came a two for one deal with twins Jonah and Emma who are 6 and going into first grade. The baby is Sophie and she is 3. So as you can see it really didn’t ever feel like the right season for us to adopt. Even with an already large family (by most standards today) I would look and feel someone was missing from the dinner table. And maybe I was supposed to tuck in someone else at night.

We began looking at waiting children. Just inching along. We knew from having Caleb we were called and equipped to care for a special child. I would say that I always had a heart and a love for people who have that extra chromosome. It was natural for us to be looking at children with either Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. However there are a lot of cute, sweet kids who need a family and we couldn’t agree on who, if anyone was to come to our home.

One day in our Sunday school class at church, the teacher was talking about “getting off the fence”. The fence being the safe place where we just ride the middle and not really commit to one side or the other. At the end he challenged us to get off our fence. My husband Matt and I knew what that meant in our life and we went home, reached in the  cabinet that the adoption application had been sitting in for 6 months and we jumped way off the fence. We went back to looking at the waiting children and we saw a little 4 year old girl, her advocacy name was “Charlotte” and it discussed her Down syndrome in her brief description. Matt said I think she is a Cooper. We were finally on the same page!

She is located in China and there are several guidelines that must be met in order to adopt from their country. We didn’t even know if we would qualify. Holt International (our agency) called back within days to say we met those guidelines and could adopt from China. They wanted to know if we were interested in a particular child or if we preferred to be matched with someone at the end of the process. We told them about Charlotte and said they would be happy to fax her medical chart to us. We had 48 hours to have them reviewed by doctors/pediatrician and to let them know if we would like to continue towards her. I am a nurse practitioner so the words were familiar and after all Caleb has been through I didn’t think there could be anything that would make me say no. Her 12 page file said she was abandoned and found near an industrial part of the city. Attempts were made to find her parents, but unable and she was placed in an orphanage. The report said she is nonverbal, and I read obstinate a few times. That’s laughable because apparently they have not met my three year old! It said she could walk independently and navigate stairs. She can ride a tricycle. She is fed porridge in the morning and rice for lunch and dinner occasionally with fruits or meat. And if the nannies don’t watch her carefully during meals she will swipe from others’ bowls. I would too on that diet. It said she will try to console other children if they are crying but often makes them cry more from patting their back too hard. So she is kind and hungry. Perfect for us. They had done labs on her and her CBC and TSH were within normal limits. It also said no heart defect. It’s hard to believe there isn’t a heart issue, but perhaps if it is something they missed it must be minor or she is compensating for it and getting along OK. The best part was the photo copy of her chromosomes and that third copy was just the cutest thing ever.

We said within 12 hours yes we wanted to continue and notified Holt. There were having a match meeting in a few days for another family and child and they would add us and Charlotte to the agenda. They advised me that no one else had inquired or was looking at Charlotte so while I felt strong we would be matched, there is always the possibility that would prefer her with much older children, or no children, we didn’t know.  But being part of God’s plan it all came together and we were matched. Hooray, we found the child who has been missing from our family.

She turned five while in the orphanage and we are certain it will be her last without her family. Even her birthday is an estimate because they assigned her a birth date based on physical findings when she was found. The orphanage is great and has sent us several videos of her playing and the nannies seem very attentive and loving to her. I think she will be missed. Which makes me sad in one way, we are removing her from everything she has ever known. her crib mates, her nannies, her walls of the orphanage, her language, but I also know that we are going to change her little world for the better. We are giving her a new generational legacy that would not have otherwise been available to her there. We look forward to becoming part of the DSAGSL community and advocating for Down syndrome and for orphans. I used to struggle after Caleb’s diagnosis with cerebral palsy and it took me quite a while to figure out that I was the perfect mom for him, and that he was chosen and picked just for me and even through the difficulties, God would prepare and equip me. I have had the privilege to offer those words to a few new moms who maybe recently found out their perinatal testing was abnormal. Or they are still working through the process of grief for their little one. I see Down Syndrome and any specialness in a child a blessing, but I know not everyone has arrived to that point. So I hope to be a source for moms who might need a listening ear or someone to offer an encouraging word. It’s part of being in the community!!

We just completed our home study visits and are awaiting our final report on that to send off for grant applications. While we have a child on the other side of world waiting for immigration papers and a dossier to arrive we still have the financial hurdles to jump over. The fee for the orphanage alone is $15000, plus travel and a handful of other things here and there. We would just ask our community to lift our family up in prayer that God will meet those needs just when it is the perfect time. And our faith allows us to rest and now that it will happen, because many of God’s promises say so.

Thank you for allowing us to share our story with DSAGSL and we can’t wait to have her here. I know she is going to do so many great things and impact so many people along the way. I think people with Down Syndrome just come by that naturally.  And there will be One Less Orphan!

Social Security Disability Benefits for Your Child With Down Syndrome

The content of this article was provided by Social Security Disability Help. For any additional information or resources, their staff can be reached at

If you are a parent of a child with Down syndrome, you know that medical bills, therapists’ appointments, and other expenses add up quickly. Fortunately, there could be help available for you. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial resources to people with disabilities.  

Financially Qualifying with Down Syndrome 

If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits on behalf of your child with Down syndrome, your income and assets will be evaluated by the SSA. This means that if you or your spouse makes a living wage, your child disability benefits. The SSA has an online chart that shows exactly how much your family can earn per month while still qualifying. 

Income limits are unfortunately the most common reason children with Down syndrome are denied benefits, but there is good news: Once your child is 18, the SSA will not take your income into consideration anymore, even if your child still lives at home. Many families with a child who has Down syndrome find that their child qualifies after turning 18.  

An adult with Down syndrome cannot have more than $2,000 in assets, which include cash, stocks, or life insurance. You can help support your child after he or she turns 18, but be sure that your child doesn’t save more than $2,000 without first creating an ABLE account.

Medically Qualifying with Down Syndrome

When the SSA receives your child’s application, it will compare his or her medical records to its own medical guide called the “Blue Book.” The Blue Book has hundreds of illnesses or disabilities listed, as well as what test results or records are needed for someone to medically qualify for disability benefits. The Down syndrome Blue Book listing is very straightforward for both children under age 18 and adults. It states that anyone with either Trisomy 21 or Translocation Down syndrome will medically qualify with simply a diagnosis. To prove that your child has Down syndrome to the SSA, you will need to be able to show a laboratory report of a karyotype analysis signed by a physician, or an unsigned karyotype analysis with treating physicians’ records.

How does my child qualify with Mosaic Down syndrome?

Around 2% of people with Down syndrome have Mosaic Down syndrome. The SSA’s Blue Book listing only covers non-Mosaic Down syndrome. This is because many people with Mosaic Down syndrome may not experience the same physical or cognitive limitations as people with Trisomy 21 or Translocation Down syndrome. 

Qualifying with Mosaic Down syndrome is not as straightforward, but it is still possible. You will need to show that complications due to your child’s Mosaic Down syndrome keep your child from participating in typical childhood activities if under age 18, or keep your child from working if 18 or older. 

Some Down syndrome complications that are listed in the Blue Book include:

  • Heart defects
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Seizures
  • Hearing or vision loss

Because every person with Down syndrome is completely different, you should work with your physician to look over the Blue Book and determine whether or not your child could qualify. 

Starting the Application Process

You can start an application on behalf of your child online, but you will need to stop by your local SSA office to finish the process. There are multiple offices in every state. Before your appointment, be sure to review the Childhood Disability Starter Kit, or the Adult Disability Starter Kit if your child is age 18 or older. These guides will outline everything you’ll need to apply, from your household pay stubs to your child’s personal documents, like a birth certificate. You can get the process started by scheduling an appointment with the SSA. To make an appointment at your nearest office, call the SSA toll-free at 1-800- 772-1213.

Volunteers do not necessarily have the time–They just have the heart

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization. Without the countless individuals that regularly give their time, our programs would not be successful. We couldn’t do what we do without you!

In honor of April being National Volunteer Month, we would like to share Cammise’s wonderful, selfless experience as a volunteer for DSAGSL!  

For details on how to support DSAGSL by becoming a volunteer, please CLICK HERE

Last year’s Trivia Night was a huge success! I enjoyed working with Abeyo and Josh. We danced, mingled with participants, and put our heads together to answer some of the trivia questions.

In working to pilot the Employment Academy, this experience demonstrated that our friends with Down Syndrome had only been limited by their opportunities. The ability to see capabilities, personalities, and interests was well worth the experience and I encourage everyone to not just employ, but to become partners with an amazing group of students, so they can walk away with a huge smile and a renewed charge just as I did.

Great work, DSA! Thanks for letting me be a part of the mission.


Thank you, Cammise, from the bottom of our hearts!

Through the Eyes of a Self-Advocate

DSAGSL recently asked Down syndrome self-advocates and their families:

“What would you like the world to know about Down syndrome?”

We have received a lot of amazing and heartwarming entries for you to look forward to in the coming weeks!  Paula Mass was kind enough to tell us her wonderful story, and we are excited to be able to share it with our readers!


      What would I like the world to know about me as a person of interest?

I did have a hard time answer this question almost an hour ago. I enjoy the simple things inmy life. I work through my hardship with having different relations with other people besides my own family. I want other people to notice me as a person. I do have Down syndrome. Down syndrome is important to me. That is who I am. I want peace in the world for Israel.  I want Israel to be a safe place to live in.  Israel should be equal on all different religious. I believe to be equal with different people’s culture, so other people can live in Israel.


What makes me a happy person with Down syndrome?

I like writing poetry, and I am creative person at heart. I enjoy doing art work at home that does make me smile a lot. Going to the art museum. Water parks are fun, too. Smelling flowers that do have a nice scent is very pleasant to me.  Having Happy dreams are good for me.


What does Down syndrome mean to Me?

I can think for myself. I do have a hard time eating with my mouth closed. I learn slower than other people. I scratch my head when it does get itchy. This does indicate that I can think better for myself.


      What would you like to tell people about having Down syndrome?


Certain Facts about my appearance: I am a short person. I do have problems with typing sometimes on a keyboard. Sometimes, I do go to fast without realizing it. I am a short person. 4 feet and 9 inches.  I am 32 years of age. That is short for a teenager.

I have small feet. My feet are short and narrow. I have small hands. My fingers are stubby and pulpy. I have a learning disability. I gather information slower than other people, like learning about anything that interests me.  I do get dry mouth easily. I define myself with having Down syndrome, and why I am the way that I am. I do have physical issues with my own body. I do worry about my health problem that does matter to me a lot. There are certain places I have a hard time traveling to getting on 2 separate planes at the airport that would be hard for me.  I never learned how to drive a car. But, I can drive my mother crazy sometimes.  I read slower than other people. I do get my tongue tied while I do speak English. I do not have a second language. French is off the table. I do have a hard time spelling simple words.

-Paula Mass, Self-Advocate

Special Cards for Special Days

This article was originally printed in the December 2015 State Farm Reflector Magazine

The birthday cards fly out of Kelly Ruby’s office every Monday and Friday. They are hand­written, heart-filled and sent to customers in and around Eureka, MO. “Happy birthday, Joe! Happy birthday, Jane! We hope you have a special day. Sincerely, all of us at the Kelly Ruby State Farm Office.” A sticker inside each card gives a little more of the story of the person who took the time to prepare it. It reads: “This card was created for you by Megan (Layton), an employee of our office. Megan joined us through an employment initiative with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis. She is a self-advocate and so proud to create this card just for you on your special day!”

Spurred by compassion, justice or plain human decency, Kelly’s office is helping Megan become Megan. In return, Megan offers a mirror to their goodness. “Not a week goes by that she doesn’t get at least one call from a customer thanking her for sending the card,” says Kelly, a former elementary school teacher. “I love that they tell her, instead of telling me.” Megan has been working in Kelly’s office since March. She works four hours each Monday and Friday and sits up front with the team. She greets walk-in customers, scans files, attends community events with the team and -everyone’s favorite -creates the birthday cards. Kelly’s husband, Dave, is board president for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis. The organization started an employment summit, encouraging employers to hire willing and able adult self-advocates with Down syndrome.

Kelly partnered with the organization to find candidates to interview. She interviewed several candidates and kept coming back to Megan during the decision-making process. “She is so warm and positive and really wanted to work for us. She made that very clear,” says Kelly, who opened her office in August 2014. “It was a mutual decision.” “Our office was the first to hire within the initiative. I offered Megan a chance to work in a professional, office environment where she impacts customers, community and my team,” she adds.

Megan lives independently and, according to her coworkers, has a busy social calendar, including attending the prom hosted by the Albert Pujols Family foundation, the professional baseball player’s St. Louis-based organization that helps those living with Down syndrome. Team Member Heather Seiler, who herself has a sibling with special needs, said she is inspired every day by Megan. “She attends our team meetings and tells us to ask for referrals,” Heather says, “She’s always encouraging us to let people know who we are. She reminds us to be brave. She has changed the way we view ourselves.” Says Kelly, “Megan is a happy, positive person and helps make our office a great workplace. We have so much to be thankful for every day.”

Changes at the DSAGSL

Effective January 6, 2016, there will be a major change taking place at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis.  Please see the note below from Jeremie Ballinger regarding this news.  Direct any questions to our office at 314.961.2504.


Dear Friends:

This is already so much harder to write than expected.  But here goes: As of January 6, DSAGSL will have a new Executive Director.  My last day in the office serving you will be Tuesday, January 5.  To say this decision is bittersweet is the understatement of the year.  But as wrong as it feels, it truly is the right move.  We are moving back to my hometown of Kansas City to be closer to family.  This has been on our hearts for a while, and has become even more necessary in the past few months. 

To be quite honest, staying in St. Louis this long wasn’t always the plan.  But this city…man, it has a way of growing on you, doesn’t it?  The people are so gracious and generous.  There are so many wonderful places to see and traditions to enjoy.  And let’s be honest here, the food scene has “grown on me” by more than a few pounds.  But what truly made this home is the way our DSAGSL family has welcomed and embraced us from day one.  My stance has always been that St. Louis does more for its disability community than anyone in the country.  The DSAGSL family embodies that perfectly. You are the most dedicated, caring group of people I’ve ever seen.  Regardless of who leads this organization, the reason we get national awards and grow so quickly is still here.  It’s because of you – our families, our volunteers, and especially our self-advocates – and I’m so thankful for that.          

I’m also excited to know that our next 40 years will be brighter than ever because of the group continuing to lead DSAGSL.  Our Board of Directors has created a wonderful vision for the organization, and puts in hundreds of hours each year behind the scenes to bring that vision to life.  It’s been an honor to work alongside them. And our staff is hands down the best Down syndrome staff in the country – don’t let anyone even attempt to tell you otherwise.  Seeing other organizations around the country makes me even more proud of the group we have here.  Nobody works harder or brings more knowledge, passion and professionalism to the table, period.  Which makes this next sentence such a joy to write…

I’m thrilled to share with you that Erin Suelmann, formerly our Director of Programs & Services, will be DSAGSL’s Executive Director starting January 6.  Erin’s leadership directing our programming has been beyond impressive, and she simply never stops working to make this place better.  She also has experience as an Executive Director, and as you probably know is motivated daily by her brother who has Down syndrome.  It was only a matter of time until Erin was asked to lead an organization, and thankfully it will be DSAGSL.  You’ll hear from her soon, and I know will continue enjoying to work with her and our entire staff as we look forward to our next 40 years.

Thank you again so much for supporting this organization, and for making the experience of serving you so memorable.  This is absolutely a “see you later” rather than a farewell.  We can’t wait to see everyone again soon.

With so much respect,


DSAGSL Volunteers of the Year

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  ~Leo Buscaglia



What better time than the holidays to let people know you are thankful for them. We here at the DSAGSL could not be more thankful for the amazing volunteers we have. Indeed, we would not be able to do our work without them! We are thrilled to announce our 2015 Volunteers of the Year. These individuals were nominated for one of three categories: Special Events, Programs and Community Groups. Read about our amazing volunteers below!

Laura Bontty – Program Volunteer for 9 years
“Laura has been a familiar face at the DS Center for 9 years! Once a month, Laura meets with families to make sure they are connected to the DSAGSL. Laura has also volunteered as a New Parent Support mentor and at the New Mother’s Luncheon. She has logged nearly 500 hours of volunteer service for the DSA! We truly appreciate our volunteers who make this type of commitment to our organization.”

Sally Simmons – Program Volunteer for 7 years
“Sally has been meeting with families at the DS Center for 7 years. Sally helps families stay connected with the DSA during their visit. She has also volunteered at Step Up for Down Syndrome and has given nearly 400 hours of service in a variety of programs over the years!”

Kristin Muckerman – Community Group Volunteer for 3+ Years
“Kristin has been leading the St. Charles Community Group for over three years both independently and in partnership with other leaders. Las year she lost her co-leader and, despite being a busy mom, kep the group running and meting. The group has offered scholarships, held educational and recreational activities. It has been a consistent group for the area for many years and Kristin has helped to keep it going strong!”

Donna Battershell – Special Events Volunteer for 3 Years
“Donna is a wonderful asset to our office. She has been volunteering on Monday mornings from 9am – 1pm for the past three years. Being in the office on a weekly basis means that Donna has worked on just about every event or project that we’ve undertaken. Donna has worked on many, many mailings, tracked ticket orders, packaged t-shirt/ ticket orders, helped with creating packets/copies for trivia night, and been here every week to help with any task needed. In last year’s move to our new office, Donna took charge of packing our extensive library. She continues to work on cataloging and updating our resource library. We are very fortunate to have Donna’s time, skill and experience.

Meet Andi – New DSAGSL Program Coordinator

I am Andrea (Andi) McCormick and I am so excited to be a part of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis. I began my career as a special education teacher at United Services for Children teaching children of all abilities ages 3-5. After having children of my own I worked as part of the First Steps of Missouri as a developmental therapist for children with developmental delays ages birth to three.

I enjoy many things in life, especially being a wife and mother. My husband Doug and I have been married since 2000 and we have two amazing children, Maya and Bennett. I find no greater joy than being their mom! We enjoy traveling together and spending time outdoors.

I began looking for a place to volunteer my time and energy working with people with Down syndrome and I landed at DSAGSL. I was blessed to be invited to lead the infant and toddler therapeutic play group. After 18 months of volunteering I am excited to be a part of the staff and look forward to learning, growing, and being a part of DSAGSL!

Give Thanks for these Down Syndrome Super Stars!

The month of October brought many things – Down Syndrome Awareness Month, our 3rd Annual Talent Show, day after day of adorable picture, and nominations for our Down Syndrome Super Stars. Super Stars are individuals that have been recognized for their dedication, passion and kindness in working with individuals with Down syndrome. These are people that go above and beyond to help the DSAGSL make our vision a reality. Below are nominations for four amazing individuals in our community. As the holiday season approaches, let’s take a moment to give thanks that we have great people like this in our world!

Jaylin Cruz – Big Sister with an Even Bigger Heart
“Hi. My name is Lesly. I have two beautiful kids. My first child, my daughter Jaylin Cruz, and my son with Down syndrome, Miguel Angel Cruz. I would like to nominate my daughter for helping someone with Down syndrome – her brother. She has always been a big part of his life. She has always watched the struggles he has, but she always pushes him to do anything he wants. I am so blessed to have my kids, but I thank God for giving me my daughter because I have learned from her as well.” – 
Lesly Calderon

Kayla Fritz – A Very Cool Cousin
“I would love to tell you about my niece Kayla Fritz, but first let me tell you about our son Ben. Our youngest child, Ben, was born with Down syndrome. He is healthy and strong and doing well in school and at home. But one area where Ben is missing out is friends.  Ben has only been to 2-3 birthday parties in his whole life. He rarely gets invited to play with a friend and has never once been invited to play with the kids on the block. My niece, Kayla, has always been special to Ben. She goes out of her way to talk to Ben and include him despite the fact that she is 7 years older than him. As soon as Kayla was able to drive, she started inviting him to go out for ice cream.  She is a senior in high school so I am I sure that she has more fun things to do with her free time, but she makes a point of connecting with Ben. That is so special to Ben and to us, his parents.” – Anne Fritz

Nicole Myers – Making School a Better Place for All Kids
“I met Nicole Myers over three years ago at my son Josh’s IEP transition meeting for kindergarten. She listened to my concerns and my hopes for a bright future for my son. She knew that two of my biggest questions were  “How will Josh be successful in school? How can I help him be successful?” I was nervous being in a district that was not part of the Special School District and I had many other concerns. I know kids with Down syndrome can learn and I also knew my son is very capable. I knew about the specialist program through the DSAGSL and passed the information onto Nicole. For the past 3 years she has made sure that Northwest is involved in this program. I had conversations with staff at the DSAGSL on several occasions about taking this training into the classroom and giving support and hands on help to make inclusion work in the general education classroom. Nicole was enthusiastic about starting this pilot program in the Northwest R-I district and helped us get it started there. I feel that without Nicole Myers help this would not have been possible to get off the ground. She was instrumental in getting it approved through the district and has been very supportive in every aspect. Their have been many times that I have had a question or an issue come up and I knew I could call or text her and she would get in touch with me as soon as possible. She is a wonderful advocate for all students with special needs and the DSAGSL is fortunate to have her helping with this program.” – Mary Ellen Ritchey


Cori and ChrisAnne – Special Friends for Always
“Hello I wanted to share about a Special Friend of mine. Her name is Cori Passarelli. She is in 8th grade at North Rockford Middle School. In Rockford Michigan. Cori is such a blessing to anyone that meets her. Her smile and kind words are what gets me through some of my days as I run special programs at her school. She is involved in Gymnastics and cheerleading. She encourages and is involved in lives of her peers. Thank you for letting me praise her and let others know how her Down syndrome is apart of her but it does not define her.” – ChrisAnne Lilly


Sports Camp Experience – by Lindsey Hawkins

Last week, I went to sports camp. Everyone came in on Sunday mid-afternoon and there were different groups. The theme for the week was Super Heroes. I was home sick on Sunday evening. On Monday it took me awhile to get up, because I get up at 6am to walk on the track every morning. We start to play sports in the morning. We play sports like soccer, flag football, swimming, tennis, and golf. We then play different sports in the afternoon each day. We also did biking, bows and arrows, lawn games, kickball, noodle hockey and fishing.

In the evenings, we all did night activities. Monday night we watched Batman for movie night. Tuesday was trivia night and the leaders had to take away our cellphones, so we didn’t cheat! On Wednesday evening we had to find different pieces around sports camp. On Thursday evening was a dance. The ladies wore dresses or hero outfits. Our leaders got nail polish and did our nails before the dance.

On Tuesday I caught a 6-inch blue gill on fishing day. Some other athletes got snapping turtles on their hooks that were so big. On Thursday morning the leader of the Hulk group got in the mud. We had to take off our shoes and socks and we ended up getting mud all over our legs and feet. Our Hulk leader got mud all over his shorts that day. On Friday, was the noodle hockey competition.  We played like a team. We had six people in at a time and six people out. We played against different hero groups. The staff also played, but they cheated during the noodle hockey competition.

During the dance on Friday night, someone bubble wrapped two beds together in the Hulk group leaders room, put glitter all over the floors, and stickers on the walls. The Hulk group members helped out by cleaning the room at sports camp.

The showers at sports camp were super cold on Thursday night, but we got warm showers the rest of the week. On Friday, we had graduation. We got a new shirt, a team picture and a picture with our fish or snapping turtle. It was a great time!