Holiday Traditions – by Lindsey, Abeo and Grace

What is the best part of the Holiday season to you? Does your family have traditions that you look forward to each year and hope to carry on with your own family? We thought it would be appropriate to the season to ask some of our self-advocate office volunteers to share how their families celebrate the Holiday Season.

1. How does your family celebrate the holidays?

Lindsey: I like to open gifts on Christmas Day with my family and celebrate on New Year’s Eve the best!

Abeo: Kwanzaa is my tradition. This year it starts December 26 and goes until January 1.

Grace: I love to stay home with my family. We wake up in the morning and open gifts from Santa and family. Then we eat dinner later.

2. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Lindsey: We celebrate Christmas and the New Year. We go to a different person in my family’s house every year.

Abeo: We celebrate Kwanzaa. We sit together, light a candle and for seven days we pray and talk about our ancestors.

Grace: We celebrate Christmas. My family stays home, hangs out and does something together.

3. What do the holidays mean to you?

Lindsey: I love being with my family and enjoying company at different houses. Even during Christmas, I’m looking forward to Cardinals season, and hanging out with my dogs Bentley and Oscar.

Abeo: Kwanzaa helps us study our history. We learned that in Africa people dressed up, put bowls on their head to dance, carried their babies on their backs and loved to cook. African culture is different, and I like it.

Grace: Christmas is my favorite time of year.  To me it is a time to do something special like hangout with our families and friends.

Meet the New Face at the DSAGSL – by Abby Brandon

I’m originally from Morton, IL, known as the Pumpkin Capital of the World – yes, really. I attended Saint Louis University (GO BILLIKENS!) and there I studied Business Administration with an emphasis in International Business.  I’d always known I wanted to do something that would allow me to make a positive difference in the world around me, but I wasn’t sure how I would do that. My senior year, I had the great opportunity to intern at the DSAGSL and from then on, I knew that I wanted to have a career in the nonprofit industry. I continued to volunteer with the DSAGSL Art Club for Adults after my semester as an intern ended, and I loved it! After I graduated, I had the great opportunity to do some temporary work as an Events Coordinator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. I really enjoy doing events; it can be challenging at times but it’s so rewarding.  I have loved being a part of the DSAGSL as an intern and volunteer and couldn’t be more thrilled to be an employee! I can’t wait to meet all the awesome volunteers and be a part of all the great events the DSAGSL has! In my free time, I love cooking, traveling, and cheering on the Cardinals, the Chicago Bears, and of course the Billikens!

Holiday Toy Resources – by Christy Klaus

It is the time of year when parents are on the search for gift ideas for their child with special needs.  Even more stress is added when grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends need gift ideas as well.  Some of our favorite games have been Zingo, Uno, Monopoly Jr., Life (electronic version), Go Fish, Headbands and Twister.

Here are a few links with ideas for toys.  Also, don’t forget about things like movie tickets, restaurant gift certificates, special outing with a family member or friend and favorite snacks.

24 Great Toys for Kids Who Don’t Play with Toys
Toy Guide for Differently Abled Kids
10 Toys Great for Kids with Special Needs
Melissa and Doug – Toys for Special Needs

Thankful – by Abeo and Lindsey

We interviewed two of our self-advocate volunteers about Thanksgiving, what they’re thankful for and how they plan to celebrate!

1. What does Thanksgiving mean to you?

Abeo: Praying together as a family and always staying together.

Lindsey: It means being with my family like my cousins, grandparents and friends. Everyone gathers together and enjoys the company.

2. What are you most thankful for?

Abeo: To God, for the roof over our heads, not telling lies and being together.

Lindsey: My family and that I get to help my mom cook and set up for Thanksgiving.

3. How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?

Abeo: We go over to our cousins house, eat and play games.

Lindsey: We have wine and celebrate as a family with all my cousins, Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents.

Holidays with Special Needs Children – a blog from Lori Lite

The DSAGSL came across this fantastic article and found it may be helpful for our families as the holiday season quickly approaches.

Click here to read the blog.

Lori Lite is the founder and author of Stress Free Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Build Self-Esteem, Manage Stress, and Reduce Anxiety. Her award winning children’s series, Indigo Dreams introduces stress management techniques through storytelling. Lori’s constant upbeat presence on Facebook and Twitter make her a real-time resource for anyone seeking practical advice for stress free living. For more information visit

Down Syndrome Super Star #11 – Risher Family

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, the DSAGSL is recognizing individuals or groups who have gone above and beyond for an individual with Down syndrome and/or the Down syndrome community.There are so many superstars in our city! My choice for this year during Down Syndrome Awareness Month is the Risher family. For years, Suzie and Cathy Risher have put their heart and soul into fundraising for their annual golf tournament and for our Lydia Cox Memorial Bike Camp. They don’t do it for the recognition, however deserved it might be.  They simply set out to honor the memory of Lydia, who passed away at age three and made such an impact on them and so many others. Because of them, more than 100 individuals with Down syndrome have learned to ride a bike and now have a skill that they can enjoy for a lifetime with friends and family. Suzie, Cathy and their family also spend every single minute of camp volunteering and making sure families have a great experience. We’re so inspired and grateful for their hard work, and excited to expand our bike program to include our new bike club and a 2nd week of camp coming in 2015! Last weekend marked the 5th anniversary of Lydia’s passing, but a wonderful legacy has been created because of the Risher family. They are Down Syndrome Superstars in every possible way!

-Jeremie Ballinger, DSAGSL Executive Director

Down Syndrome Super Star #10 – Alicia

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, the DSAGSL is recognizing individuals or groups who have gone above and beyond for an individual with Down syndrome and/or the Down syndrome community.

I want to officially label someone near and dear to our family as a Down Syndrome Super Star. Her name is Alicia. She is the principal at Word of Life Lutheran School in St. Louis. Her loving heart and accepting attitude has opened the door of the school to our son, Sean. Alicia not only found a way for Sean to attend this parochial school, but was able to persuade the school board to fund an aid to help Sean successfully navigate his academics. She served as a classroom teacher before becoming the principal and was Sean’s third grade teacher. During that time she took the DSAGSL’s teacher specialist trainings along with another teacher at Word of Life. Even though Alicia is very busy being a principal, she always takes time to consider ways to improve and enhance Sean’s schooling. From helping adapt a music program with her can-do attitude to asking us to present an assembly for the entire school about Down syndrome awareness, Alicia defines a Down syndrome advocate!

-Robin Miller, parent of Sean

Down Syndrome Super Star #9 – Andi

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, the DSAGSL is recognizing individuals or groups who have gone above and beyond for an individual with Down syndrome and/or the Down syndrome community.

I would like to nominate Andrea (Andi) McCormick for DSAGSL Super Star! Andi began volunteering for us in June, leading our new monthly Therapeutic Play Group for our 0-3 year olds. She is always so cheerful, excited, enthusiastic and friendly. The babies and parents just love her! When we had the idea for a play group, I thought we would just have guided play time, but Andi went above and beyond my wildest expectations. She always comes prepared with amazing therapeutic toys and games. The little ones always have a blast. I was so appreciative of Andi leading this once a month group, I was amazed when she volunteered to do a second group in the St. Peter’s area! She is so caring and energized about the work she does, it is hard not to have a great time right along with her. It’s obvious she has a passion for working with our kiddos. Thanks, Andi, for being such an awesome Super Star!

-Erin Suelmann, DSAGSL Director of Programs

Down Syndrome Super Star #8 – Your Story Photoart

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, the DSAGSL is recognizing individuals or groups who have gone above and beyond for an individual with Down syndrome and/or the Down syndrome community.

I am nominating Melisa and Jeremy Keltner as Down Syndrome Super Stars. The Keltners own Your Story Photoart Studios and volunteer their professional photography skills to the DSAGSL often.

Each year, the DSAGSL produces a calendar featuring our self-advocates. In order for this to happen, we request that professional photographers donate sessions photographing the individuals with Down syndrome. The Keltners have come back for several years to help with this large project. The calendar, which is pre-ordered and purchased by countless members, wouldn’t be possible without amazing photographers like the Keltners.  I can’t stress how HUGE it is to not only donate their hard earned time and talent, but to produce the quality photos that they do.

The Keltners also help cover our photography needs for several of our large awareness and support events throughout the year! Photos are an irreplaceable component to sharing our mission and faces with our community. They help us tell our stories, successes and goals and without them it would be very difficult.

Lastly, the genuine compassion that Jeremy and Melisa share when working with our self-advocates and families is unmatched. They have become close to several families and really make it apparent that they both love their profession and working with the DSAGSL!

Hats off to Jeremy and Melisa Keltner for a continued job well done!

-Emily Gillardi, DSAGSL Marketing and Communications Manager