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!

Thinking about joining us for Birdies & Bass?

Letter from Jeremie Ballinger, Executive Director

It hardly feels like it outside lately, but we are well into August and quickly approaching a very important day on our calendar.  Monday, August 31 is DSAGSL’s 5th Annual Birdies & Bass Golf Tournament.  If you aren’t already planning to join us at Persimmon Woods Golf Club, please consider making the time to come out and be a part of the day!

Birdies & Bass is one of our signature events that support DSAGSL’s mission to provide support, education and advocacy for our local Down syndrome community.  The event includes a fishing tournament, where participants enjoy time out on the lake alongside our self-advocates, as well as golf and a live auction featuring wonderful experiences and items for bid.  There are a number of ways you can get involved:

-       If you play golf, you’re in luck!  Currently about six foursomes remain in our event.  Individual golfers are also welcome, as we can help place you on a team.

-       We need self-advocates! People with Down syndrome tell the story of our mission better than anyone. There is room for many self-advocates to fish and be a part of the day.  Half or full day opportunities are available based on your schedule.

-       Finally, we still have a need for several volunteers during the event. You don’t have to know or even like golf to take part.  Our staff will be happy to work with you and connect you to some of the most kind, giving people we know. It’s truly a great day to celebrate Down syndrome, no matter how you feel about fishing or golf.

If you’d like to learn more about Birdies & Bass, please contact us (314.961.2504 or We hope to see you there!

Friendly Face with a Heart to Match – Jasimine Johnson

Hola! My name is Jasimine Johnson. I am currently an intern here at DSAGSL. I am the first out of my family to graduate high school and attend college. I love animals, people, traveling and trying different things. My everyday hobbies are playing sports, writing, reading, working, singing, and dancing. In high school, I was a part of every team you can think of from wrestling to orchestra.  I am very out-going and optimistic once I warm up to people. I love meeting new people, however I am very shy. (Not sure how that works, but it does). I have a smile that will brighten up your day and a heart to fill in the gaps.  My dream in life is to become a manager of my own business, Tax Consultant, or Assistant to an Executive in a Corporation. I also have started writing my own book about my life and would love to get it published one day.

I graduated from Florissant Valley Community College with honors. I received my Associate’s Degree right out of high school and now working toward my Bachelor’s Degree at The University of Missouri-St. Louis.  I am majoring in Business Administration; however, I am uncertain about what I want to emphasis in. Not sure if it will be Marketing, Management, Finance, or Accounting. I enjoy school and learning different things. Being able to encourage someone else is what motivates me. I enjoy working with people of all ages and just being a part of a team. I love to be busy doing something and make goals that I work toward every day. I speak the truth to others about real life decisions and how important it is to succeed in life.

I hope to really enjoy this semester here at DSAGSL and I hope they will have me back again!

Camp Barnabas – by Paige Brune

When I was at Camp Barnabas, I conquered three fears.

One of the fears was swimming in the deep end of the pool when I took the swim test for camp.

The second fear is canoeing. I sat in the middle of a canoe. The pond felt great, and I had a lot of fun. We also got to fish there.

Finally, the last of my fears I overcame was being in a bounce house. I was nervous at first, but then I went in with a buddy. It was a lot of fun!

The camp was awesome, and I had a great time there. I met some new friends and my favorite thing to do was the wrap ups and lessons.

Nominate an Outstanding Volunteer

Do you know a loyal DSAGSL volunteer who regularly goes above and beyond their duties? Nominate them for a 2015 Outstanding Volunteer Award!

Are you a devoted DSAGSL volunteer yourself? Self-nominations are allowed!

Please send completed forms to by August 31. Honorees will be recognized at the Talent Show on October 9. (Note: Current Board of Directors members are not eligible.)

Click here to download the form and nominate an Outstanding Volunteer!


Dierbergs School of Cooking – by Megan Layton

I participated in the School of Cooking at Dierbergs on June 10. There was a great turnout, 14 people attended. Dierbergs has had the cooking class for eight years. The class was hosted by Sally and Dennis.

Sally and Dennis were very informative. They had awesome visual aids, cooking utensils and taught us how to use them by telling us and demonstrating.They were very prepared and very organized and seemed to know exactly how to simplify what they were doing to make it easier to learn.

It was temping to eat everything I made. All the cooking made me hungry!

We prepared and ate italian tomato bruschetta, fresh and light caesar salad, chicken spidini, green beans with crisp crumb topping and a side of cheddar au gratin potatoes. For dessert, we had red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

Why Attend the Annual Meeting?

Letter from Jeremie Ballinger, Executive Director

Dear Friends:

We are a matter of days away from a DSAGSL tradition – our Annual Meeting.  The meeting will take place on Wednesday, July 22 at our office.  We’re happy to provide food beginning at 6:00pm, with the meeting itself to start at 6:30pm.  Hopefully you have seen a postcard or a social media mention about this event and plan to attend.

Except, you may have one small question before you decide to join us: WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THE ANNUAL MEETING, AND WHY DO I NEED TO BE THERE?

Good question.

We accomplish several things at our annual meeting:

1. We provide you with a recap of what we have accomplished over the past year.  This year will be especially fun, in that we have just completed one of our most successful years ever and have the numbers and the awards to prove it!

2. We will also give you a glimpse into the coming year – what we have planned, and how we intend to grow and serve you better.

3. This year, we will also welcome Dr. Michael Harpold from the Lumind Down Syndrome Research Foundation to share some of the latest news regarding cognition research.  Like DSAGSL, Lumind has had a very eventful year and we look forward to learning more about their work.

4. We will also present to everyone in attendance our proposed Board of Directors for 2015-16, including board leadership.  This requires a vote of our membership – which includes you!

Finally, and most importantly, this meeting is required in DSAGSL’s bylaws.  We are an organization made up of many members, and each of you have the right to know what has been done, what will be done, and also to have a voice in issues such as our leadership.

If you have any other questions about our past year, what we hope to accomplish next, or anything else related to DSAGSL and how we operate, please call or send me an email.  If you would like to attend the annual meeting, please RSVP to us at or 314.961.2504.  This is your organization, and we want to give you every opportunity to assist us in making sure we help people with Down syndrome reach their full potential.

We hope to see you next week at our annual meeting!

Meet Haley – by Haley Brightwell

Hello!  Haley Brightwell speaking, an Iowa native who loves sports, dogs, and helping people.  I am the Marketing Intern here at DSAGSL and I assist Emily with managing the social media channels associated with the organization.  I have recently taken an interest in the digital media realm of marketing and I wanted to apply that to an organization that truly helps others…so here I am!

I am currently on my way towards obtaining a Master of Business Administration from the University of Missouri – St. Louis where I also finished my undergraduate degree and played collegiate volleyball.  As I finish my Masters this coming academic year I will continue to work with the volleyball team as their Graduate Assistant Coach.  I am really excited for the new challenge and look forward to switching hats as I go from a player to a coach!

I hate to make another reference to hats but I am going to anyway, I wear many hats.  I like to add as many things into my schedule as possible…and then add one more.  I like staying busy, I like accomplishing goals, and I don’t like the feeling of wasting time.  It’s impossible to waste time if you don’t have any time to waste!  Ultimately this leads to chaos of course but chaos can be productive if it works for you.  Luckily, it works for me!

Like many many others, if you ask me what I want to do after I graduate I will immediately turn and sprint away.  No, just kidding, haha!  Do I know 100% what I want to do as a career? Nope, but I plan on having as many experiences as possible until I figure it out.  So that is what I plan to do for the next year and longer if I need to, I’ll try on bigger and bigger hats!