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!

Step Up for Down Syndrome 2015

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 7 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 2015.  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, we will continue to provide 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!

Why You Should Volunteer at Bike Camp – by Ethan Stalhuth

Ethan is a Junior at CBC High School and has volunteered at the Lydia Cox Memorial Bike Camp for two years. This year our Missouri Camp is June 1-5 and our Illinois Camp is June 8-12 If you are interested in volunteering at either of our camps, please contact Abby at 314.961.2504 ext. 101 or by email at

My name is Ethan and I was a volunteer for the DSAGSL bike camp the past two years. I am 17 years old, and I loved the camp from the first time I went. I have gone every year since. The first time I did the camp was to get out in the world and try some new things, and I also needed to get service hours for my school. Instead of just going for service hours, now I go because it is fun, different, and the people I meet are very amazing and intelligent. I love working with kids that have special needs and it gives me a new perspective on life. I like explaining things in different ways to teach the kids.

I was nervous the first time I volunteered, but the workers are very welcoming. They are so kind and thoughtful and they create an amazing environment for the kids involved in the camp. Each kid I was paired with was motivated by different things such as the songs in the movie Frozen or even stickers. The one thing that scared me the first time I volunteered was…What if my buddy falls? I do not want them to be mad at me. When one of my buddies had a small fall, I was there and ready to catch him. Then, he was not scared to fall anymore and was not as tense to ride anymore. When he got super excited to get back on, it made me happy. I knew I was doing something right in making his day. I had earned his trust, and we both had a blast! It really was an amazing feeling and one cannot experience it in a daily life.

This camp opened me up as a person and made me more confident while helpings kids be more confident about themselves. It also made me try something new. Helping the kids succeed was wonderful!  It was the best feeling when my buddy would graduate wheels and finally be able to ride a two-wheeled bike by himself. When that happened, I loved being able to go help other volunteers and their buddies achieve their goal as well. Seeing the smile on my buddy’s face, once he knew he was able to ride a bike all on his own, made me feel very proud in knowing I just played a role in his life.

I plan on volunteering at many more camps and working with kids that have special needs. I encourage others to try something new and volunteer for the DSAGSL camps and make new friends. You might even make their day!

Behavior Strategies and Solutions – by Brandon May, MSW, BCBA, LBA

Expanding skills and improving behavior are goals for many families caring for an individual with a Developmental Disability. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) provides a structured approach to improving challenging behaviors and promoting skill acquisition in the home, school, and the community. In this blog Brandon May, President of Elite ABA Services, provides his personal experiences with Developmental Disabilities as well as an overview of ABA including defining the approach, the causes of behavior, and outlining basic behavioral principles to change behavior. For more in depth information or to schedule a FREE consultation, please visit Elite ABA’s website or contact Brandon at
Being the father of a son with a Developmental Disability, as well as a Board Certified and Licensed Behavior Analyst, gives me a unique perspective on treating behavior challenges and skill deficits in a family setting. I understand the challenges families face because I have experienced them first hand. I know what it is like to have a child who did not speak until the age of 3. I know what it is like to have my child cry for hours and not know why. I know what it is like to have my son struggle to socialize with other kids. But I also know the joy of hearing my son say, “I love you,” for the first time. These moments led me to establish Elite ABA Services. I want to use the skills I have gained through my personal experiences and 11 years working with individuals with Developmental Disabilities to help other families experience success.

About Our System
Elite ABA Services is an agency providing family focused behavior support and skill building to individuals of all ages. We use a 10-step method for creating behavior change that is based in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Our Behavior Specialists use an approach that has proven to be effective through decades of research and has helped our clients become more successful at home, school, and the community.

ABA is a treatment that utilizes the principles of learning to create meaningful and sustained behavior change. It creates behavior change through positive reinforcement and environmental modifications. Children, adolescents, and adults participating in ABA therapy show an increase in skill acquisition and a decrease in challenging behaviors. ABA has been shown to reduce challenging behaviors such as:

  • Tantrums
  • Aggression
  • Self-injury
  • Inappropriate Vocalizations
  • Property Destruction

It has also been shown to effectively promote skill acquisition in areas such as:

  • Communication
  • Daily living skills
  • Eating programs
  • Academic skills

ABA has been endorsed as an effective treatment by, The American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, The National Institute of Mental Health, and The Center for Disease Control.

Causes of Behavior
All behavior happens for a reason. Behavior is created and maintained by environmental events that surround it. There are 4 functions or reasons for behavior:

  • Attention-kid screams, mom checks to see if she is ok.
  • Tangible-child throws a temper tantrum in the candy aisle. Dad buys him a candy bar.
  • Escape-student makes inappropriate joke during math. He is sent into the hall.
  • Automatic-rocking back and forth, hand flapping, etc.

Creating Behavior Change
Because behavior happens for a reason, we can teach more appropriate alternative behaviors that serve the same purpose.

For example:

  • A child who screams and cries to get his mother’s attention could be taught to raise their hand to more appropriately request attention.
  • An individual who becomes aggressive during chores to escape this task can be taught to appropriately request a break.

Reinforcement is the key to promoting behavior change! Positive reinforcement is providing something contingent on behavior that increases the future likelihood of that behavior. If behavior change is not occurring assess the effectiveness of the reinforcer. You may need something more valuable. There are many strategies used to create behavior change. The key to any system is reinforcement.

Success Stories
Our Behavior Specialists will help identify the causes of behavior and develop customized programs to change it. Some examples for how we have created behavior change include:

  • When treatment began with a 4-year old boy, his vocabulary was 1-2 words. In the first month of treatment he began spontaneously requesting items.
  • An adolescent diagnosed with Autism, Bi-Polar Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder increased his independence in showering while decreasing the time necessary to complete this task.
  • An 8-year old boy decreased his levels of inappropriate language from 15 incidents per day, to 0 over a 30-day period.
  • An adult in a Day Services Program has gone from complete isolation and engaging in no skill programs to working on functional skills with his peers for an entire 6 hour day.
  • An adolescent in an Independent Living Center increased the frequency he completed hygiene tasks and cleaned his room.