Connexions Blog

"Building stronger communities by sharing inspiration, advice, and best practices that work".

Ds-connex Presents: The 2017 #DownSyndromeDads Contest!

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

In honor of Father’s Day and great dads of kids with disabilities everywhere, ds-connex is excited to announce the 4th Annual #DownSyndromeDads Contest to recognize and celebrate these amazing fathers!

    Contest Overview

Starting Monday, May 22nd, nominate the fantastic #DownSyndromeDads in your life by sending a photo and brief (one to three sentences), meaningful message about him to ds-connex. Please send your submissions to

downsyndromedads Fathers Day 2017

All photos and descriptions will be posted to a 2017 #DownSyndromeDads photo album on the ds-connex Facebook page. All nominators and #DownSyndromeDads are encouraged to promote the contest and ask friends and family members on Facebook to like and share the photo in the 2017 #DownSyndromeDads album they wish to support.

The 1st prize winner will receive a $250 donation to their Down syndrome walk team along with a $100 Home Depot gift card. The second prize winner will be awarded a $100 team donation along with a $50 Home Depot gift card.

    New for This Year’s Contest

The ds-connex team will collect #DownSyndromeDads nominations from May 22nd until midnight EST on June 8th . The Facebook album will be posted after June 8th, at which time voting will begin. We will notify nominators via email when the album is posted and voting begins, and we will conclude voting on Monday, June 19th at 9:30am EST, when the winners of the contest will be determined. The winners will be chosen based on the total of likes and shares on the photos in the #DownSyndromeDads photo album on the ds-connex Facebook page during the voting period. Please note that in order for your entry to be included in the voting, we must receive your entry by midnight on June 8th. We will happily include entries submitted after 6/8 in the Facebook album, but they will not be eligible for the prizes. Results of the contest will be announced on our Facebook page on Monday, June 19th.

    Please note…

We welcome participants in last year’s contest to re-enter with a new photo!

By nominating someone for the #DownSyndromeDads program, you are giving ds-connex permission to edit your submission for grammar and/or length, and to share your submission via the Connexions blog and across multiple social platforms, in order to raise awareness and appreciation of fathers in the Down syndrome community and all they do. The #DownSyndromeDads contest is sponsored by ds-connex.

We look forward to seeing your #DownSyndromeDads entries!

Walk Team Spotlight - Team Candelora of the Club 21 Together is Better Walkathon

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

The 2017 Club 21 Together is Better Walkathon will take place in Pasadena’s lovely Central Park on Saturday, October 21st. Hoping to raise $200,000 to fund programming for individuals with Down syndrome and their families, the event will offer participants a day of games, activities, friendship, and fun. We were pleased to chat with Kate Candelora, top team captain of Team Candelora for Club 21, to learn more about her experience with the Together is Better Walkathon.

Club 21 Together is Better Walkathon

Preparing for their sixth walk, Team Candelora celebrates five-year-old Luca. The youngest of three children, Luca is a hilarious and smart kiddo who loves his siblings, playing at the park, and reading books (his current favorite is Duck on a Tractor by David Shannon). His most recently mastered running, and he enjoys running the bases at his big sister’s softball games. Luca would eat pasta every day, given the opportunity, and he counts Angry Birds, Minions, and Raffi among his favorite things. He knows he can make his mom laugh just by dancing in the back seat of the car, on the way to school. Luca is clearly adored by his family; this was evident in the way Kate’s voice sparkled as she described him to us.

Kate received a diagnosis of Down syndrome while pregnant with Luca and was terrified. Her mother-in-law directed her to Club 21, which Kate tearfully visited, only to be welcomed with excitement by the Club 21 staff. She remembers thinking “They must know something I don’t”; they provided a whole new perspective on what to expect. With the support of Club 21, Kate was able to get over the initial shock of the diagnosis and enjoy the pregnancy. Kate’s initial experience was so helpful (she shared that she will “never be able to explain how important” Club 21 was), she recently took on a role as a parent mentor so she can help other families know that everything will be ok.

Kate also gives back to the organization by leading a top fundraising team for the Together is Better Walkathon. While the funding is crucial to the programming provided by Club 21 (Team Candelora raised over $12,000 in 2016!), the awareness that her family raises by participating is just as important. Kate always kicks off her efforts by setting up their team’s page on the Stride fundraising site. She then sends out an email to all previous participants, which includes the date of the event and an update on what has happened in the course of the year. She describes the classes they’ve taken, the conferences they’ve attended, and Luca’s new milestones; anything that Club 21 has supported is mentioned in the email. Kate finds that people are “craving education to know about Down syndrome,” so she provides that. She also posts information once a week on her Facebook page and finds that even old acquaintances are called to donate to their team after learning about Luca. By using social media, Kate feels that she isn’t putting anyone on the spot; they can either read and then choose to donate or continue scrolling through their page. Her favorite memory from a walk was when her friend’s husband shared that he “walked out of there with a whole new perspective on Down syndrome,” after seeing all of the kids that Club 21 supports. It was really exciting for Kate to realize that they are helping to change the way others view Down syndrome. The event is not just about raising money; it’s also about educating the community about Down syndrome and raising awareness.

Club 21 Together is Better Walkathon

Each year, Kate’s husband designs a t-shirt, and every member of their team receives one. The shirts are super soft, and everyone loves them. They also provide donuts, bagels, and coffee for the team, and then they all stroll around the park together. “It’s a fun-filled family event,” Kate described. “There’s something for everyone, and you walk away feeling good.”.

Because of the support that the Candeloras receive from Club 21, they feel that they are just a “normal family”, because “parenting Luca is no different than parenting the other kids”. Kate wrapped up our conversation by telling us that Club 21 is “so amazing”, and she feels “so blessed to have found them”. For more information about Club 21, please visit their website.

This post is a part of our ongoing Walk Team Spotlight blog series, which profiles Down syndrome walk teams sharing their unique backstories, as well as fundraising, recruitment and networking tips! Check back for future posts in this series coming soon. Submit your story ideas to:

Thank You, Teachers!

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

With the arrival of May, we acknowledge and celebrate the teachers in our children’s lives. For this purpose, it is certainly appropriate to extend the definition of “teacher” to include mentors, coaches, therapists, paraprofessionals, and any other support staff who cheer us on during our years in school. We all have fond memories of our favorite teachers: those who look after us, challenge us, and believe in us…even if, perhaps, no one else did. I have a list of teachers I would consider “favorites” from my own school days, and now as a parent, I can see that favorite teachers are still creating lasting impressions on my kids. As a mother in the Down syndrome community, I have been fortunate to have an entire cast of supportive people for my son: caring teachers, nurturing paraprofessionals, determined therapists, inclusive dance teachers, and encouraging coaches. Each of these people have contributed to my son’s success in school and in his extracurricular activities, and for them we are truly grateful.

Leading up to Teacher Appreciation Week, ds-connex was pleased to once again present the #DsTeachers contest, during which we accepted nominations for the great teachers in your children’s lives. Each heartfelt submission was placed into an album on our Facebook page, and we asked for your votes via likes and shares on the photos. Over the course of a week, we saw nearly 2000 votes for the nine nominees, and their stories reached over 61,000 people on Facebook. Appreciation, gratitude, and trust are certainly evident in the testimonies shared by parents.

When the voting concluded on Monday afternoon, the winners of the 2017 #DsTeachers contest were:

First Place: Kathy Signore, nominated by Melody Lehrman

Melody wrote:

ds teacher Signore

Mrs. Signore is my daughter, Amber's, first grade teacher at Stratford Academy, Victoria Soto Elementary in Stratford, CT. She is an excellent teacher who is very creative and quick thinking, to help keep my daughter interested, involved and included within her gen ed classroom! This picture was the week before 1st grade started. Mrs. Signore contacted me and asked if we wanted to bring Amber in to see her new classroom before the first day of school. Amber loved it, and the first day of school was smooth sailing. She is a fantastic teacher with all the kids, and really takes the time to get to know each child individually. She has done her own research, and has gone out of her way to find ways to help my daughter learn in the best way that fits my daughter best. Mrs. Signore actively collaborates with other educators in the school system for input. She happily welcomed celebrating Down Syndrome Awareness month in October and also World Down Syndrome Day in March. She put together a great curriculum including stories, books and activities to help spread awareness. My daughter LOVES Mrs. Signore. She loves helping out in the classroom and wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Amber even asks about Mrs. Signore on school breaks! My daughter is in a looping classroom, and gets to be with the same peers and teacher in 1st and 2nd grade! We are so lucky to be able to have Mrs. Signore twice!

Second Place: Margie Clevenger, nominated by Rheanna Plemons

Rheanna wrote:

I would like to nominate my son’s terrific teacher, Margie Clevenger, because of the impact she has made on our lives. She coaches Special Olympics, attends our local Buddy Walk, shows up at events outside of school, and is simply fun. Her classroom instruction goes beyond traditional teaching and includes hands-on, interactive activities to help her students make connections on how the lesson applies to the world. To teach the concept of plotting coordinates on a grid, she turned a garden into a grid and let her students plant (or plot) their seeds. When she finds a student’s interest, she markets on that interest to get results in the classroom. After discovering my child loves 80’s hair bands, she used rock music to reward him for completing tasks. We saw academic growth thanks to Poison, Aerosmith, and Bon Jovi. When parents are struggling with a behavior, she offers to help even if that help must come after school hours. When my son struggled with haircuts, she brought in a large shirt from home to mimic a cape and worked with him each day. She took time out of her schedule to go with us to the salon when he got haircuts. She did this until the challenge was conquered. When he needed blood drawn, she went with us to the doctor to help with the process.

ds teachers clevenger

She is determined to help each child meet his or her full potential. She celebrates their successes and encourages them through struggles. Her genuine love for her students is evident. In fact, she throws a birthday party to celebrate each child’s special day. This year, her classroom has a super-hero theme, which is fitting. In our lives and in the lives of her students, she certainly answers the “Bat Signal.” She proves that not all superheroes wear capes; however, she will pull one out of her closest if it helps a child learn. We love you, Ms. C.!

Third Place: Alyssa D’Apolito, nominated by Heather Barnes

Heather wrote:

ds teacher Signore

My son Carson just might be the most polite, sweetest, & truly engaging child you ever meet! He is 6 years old & has yet to meet a stranger, but unlike most kids his age he wants to really know about each person he meets. Do they have a pet? A son or daughter? Are they married? Lol he's very thorough. This language in him has really exploded since he started at a Montessori school in our area with his amazing teacher(s) Alyssa D'Apolito. Carson is the only child in his class with Down syndrome, actually the only one in the entire school but they have all accepted him just as he is. Alyssa has fought hard for Carson to be fully included in the environment making his own work plan to help him reach his goals & really see his daily successes. The improvement & growth in him these past two years had been mind blowing. We have had our struggles but are always met with optimism on how we can tweak things to make it work better. Recently for World Down Syndrome Day his teachers called us back up to the school. We had already left for the day for therapies & I wasn't sure what was going on. We arrive in his classroom & all the students & teachers had made the Down Syndrome ribbon that said Carson's Crew & were wearing it around their necks. They wanted to celebrate Carson & be a part of his crew. Just thinking of that moment brings tears to my eyes again. Teachers like this don't come along often & I feel so lucky that Carson has such amazing people on his side all fighting for him!

Congratulations to all of the teachers nominated in this year’s contest. You are making a difference in the Down syndrome community, and we appreciate you! .

The #DsTeachers contest is sponsored by ds-connex, and is one of four annual campaigns presented on our Facebook page. Check back in a few weeks for details regarding our next campaign: #DownSyndromeDads! Submit your story ideas to:

Walk Team Spotlight - King Mason of the DSASBC Buddy Walk®

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

The 8th Annual DSASBC Buddy Walk® and Festival will be held on June 17, 2017, at the beautiful Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara. The event will once again feature entertainment, games, a silent auction and raffle, and of course, the walk. This year, the Down Syndrome Association of Santa Barbara County hopes to raise $50,000 to fund their annual programming. I was pleased to speak with one of the team captains who is helping to raise this funding, Missy King, of fourth year team King Mason.

King Mason

When Mason was just a year old, his speech therapist encouraged the family to attend the Buddy Walk® event in Santa Barbara; now in their team’s fourth year, they have already raised over $500…after just one week! Using Facebook to help spread the word about the event, Missy invites friends and family to join them at the walk or donate if they are unable to attend. She would like to branch out this year and perhaps host a team fundraiser; the family is considering a garage sale, where proceeds would benefit King Mason and the DSASBC Buddy Walk® and Festival.

Each year, King Mason has one of the largest teams at the event; with nearly 50 team members, they are easy to spot with their matching team t-shirts! The kids have fun playing games and the adults enjoy catching up with families that they only get to see once a year. Missy commented about how amazing it is to see the kids growing up, and she truly treasures the relationships they have established by attending this annual event.

DSASBC - King Mason team

Each year, the King family especially looks forward to connecting with another DSASBC family whose son, Gabriel, is particularly fond of Mason. Gabriel’s family, who lives 30 minutes from the Kings, walks behind King Mason because he loves Mason so much. This is just one example of the heartwarming moments which can be found at the event.

King Mason with his family

Missy hopes that her team members will also feel the spirit of unity at this family event, and she also shared how much she appreciates event coordinator, Melissa Fitch, for working so hard to organize such an awesome Buddy Walk® each year. For more information about the 8th Annual DSASBC Buddy Walk® and Festival, please visit their fundraising site: DSASBC Buddy Walk .

This post is a part of our ongoing Walk Team Spotlight blog series, which profiles Down syndrome walk teams sharing their unique backstories, as well as fundraising, recruitment and networking tips! Check back for future posts in this series coming soon. Submit your story ideas to: