San Diego comes together to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day thanks to local non-profit efforts

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March 21 is a day of numeric significance for those with Down syndrome, their friends and families because people with Down syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21. World Down Syndrome Day is held on March 21 every year, in 55 countries all over the world. This year, 166 World Down Syndrome Day events were held internationally. John Leslie and his top-rated non-profit San Diego Down Syndrome out of Lakeside held an event March 21 at The Arc of San Diego that entertained, celebrated, and gathered nearly 300 guests. 

March 21 is a day of numeric significance for those with Down syndrome, their friends and families because people with Down syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21. World Down Syndrome Day is held on March 21 every year, in 55 countries all over the world. This year, 166 World Down Syndrome Day events were held internationally. John Leslie and his top-rated non-profit San Diego Down Syndrome out of Lakeside held an event March 21 at The Arc of San Diego that entertained, celebrated, and gathered nearly 300 guests. 

San Diego Down Syndrome is in its third year in San Diego. Leslie, who has a background in accounting and non-profits, has two children with Down syndrome and decided he could do events like World Down Syndrome Day all on his own, he said, without charging people. Leslie has the help of many donors and volunteers to make such events successful. 

The SDSU Fraternity for Women, Pi Beta Phi sent 35 girls who assisted with the games and activities at the event, in addition to raising $1,000.00 for SDDS. Leslie put on the event with mostly donations and minimal costs on other things. The event had all the makings of a large, corporate event—dog ambassadors from Sharp Hospital, educational booths, a band playing country music. “I don’t take a paycheck,” Leslie said.

“This is where my heart is, doing events like this,” Leslie said. “Beyond the numeric significance of March 21, there are the people for whom the raises awareness for. I get very emotional talking about my kids, because they’re so happy. They’re the two happiest kids in the world.”

One such group enjoying the day was the Daynes family. The youngest of the Daynes’ children is 10-month-old Eli, who has Down syndrome. They were recognizable as a group by the matching custom designed T-shirts they wore in support of Eli and others. Robin Daynes, mom to Eli, is very involved in the local Down syndrome community and network.

“The Down Syndrome community in San Diego is awesome, they just bring you in,” she said. “Facebook pages, being willing to come and talk to you, and now that I’m in a position where I feel like, okay, I’ve got this under control, I want people to ask me questions, I want to answer them.”

Eli’s siblings took candies with World Down Syndrome Day tags to school on March 21. Eli’s 10-year-old brother, Tyler is ready to advocate for his little brother.

“Before Eli was born, mom found out that he had Down syndrome, and she started crying in the room,” he said. “Once he was born, the thing is, we love Eli the way he is. Sometimes we think he won’t be able to do what the other kids can do, but, turns out he’s going to grow just like everyone else. That’s why mom, me and my whole family decided on coming here. It’s amazing to have a little brother like him.”

Leslie’s work goes beyond the events. He received letters from Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Congresswoman Susan Davis recognizing his World Down Syndrome Day event, but they are not the only politicians supporting Leslie’s organization and efforts. Congressman Duncan Hunter and Davis wrote a combination letter for Leslie showing their support for his vision of a program at SDSU by which people with intellectual disabilities can earn a certificate. Leslie has met with a program director at SDSU about the project because, he said, “everyone deserves a college experience.”

Miss Teen California, Miss California, and Miss California Icon were also in attendance, helping with the games and smiling for photos with everyone who asked. Miss California Icon Victoria Riingen, a student at USD “found SDDS online and loved them,” she said. Riingen will be the Director of SDDS’s first ever pageant, which will take place locally in July.

The pageant will be the fifth SDDS event of this year. SDDS also holds a holiday event in addition to whale watching, Sea World and Legoland trips, for which the non-profit receives free tickets.

“We’re trying to let the kids see, you can do that too. You can have the same experience,” Leslie said. 

The children at the event, those who have Down syndrome and those who were there supporting someone who does, paid no attention to the fact, if they even knew, that there was any chromosomal difference between them. A good time was the only concern for all kids, which the organizers and volunteers worked hard to provide. They made the work look as effortless as the fun.

From the interactions taking place at the booths, on the dance floor, getting pizza or blowing bubbles, families and friends at the event seemed like they knew each other. They took the opportunity to just enjoy the day, together.

With the caliber of support and awareness exhibited at the World Down Syndrome Day event, the number of things on the “can’t” do list is diminishing under the growing number of things that Down syndrome kids “can.”

To learn more about SDDS and its events go to www.sandiegodownsyndrome.org/Main. 

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