Published January 17, 2012
Volume 20, Number 1

Down Syndrome Connection Offers Helpful Programs, Holds Gala on May 5 

Much has been learned about Down syndrome over the past decades. Scientists have identified the cause as a chromosomal abnormality that produces extra genetic material. The irregularity creates cognitive delay and physiological consequences such as heart defects, digestive problems, difficulties with eyesight, delayed speech, and more. All children born with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, or Hypotonia, which is responsible for the characteristic facial features and the inability to sit up, walk, and do other things as quickly as typically developing children do.

“Children with Down syndrome work very hard from birth to gain muscle strength, which is why we provide classes focused on fine and gross motor skills and offer Music and Speech Therapy for all ages,” says Nancy LaBelle, Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area.

The organization, started in 1998 by a group of parents seeking to support children and adults with Down syndrome and their families, offers programs that encourage them to reach their full potential. One of the most important things to understand about Down syndrome concerns the wide range of capabilities of people with the condition. “They are more like us than different,” LaBelle relates. “They need help to do the things they want to do, but they can do almost anything they set their mind to.”

While most are developmentally delayed and progress on their own timeline, all people with Down syndrome benefit from social contact with others. “It has been proven time and time again that children with Down syndrome learn by being included in schools with their typically developing peers and go on to be great contributors to society,” she comments.

The DS Connection offers a variety of interactive and therapeutic programs to supplement school and adult day programs as well as foster integration into the wider community. The nonprofit’s five Bay Area locations—Danville (headquarters), Oakland, San Francisco, Benicia, and Richmond—accommodate more than 100 babies, children, and adults in classes each week. Services can begin as early as prenatal consultations, extending to parent support groups, referrals, and advocacy. Outdoor field trips for teens and adults and community events for families augment their educational and social experiences, LaBelle points out, adding, “We currently reach over 500 families.” 

Several of those families, as well as many from the community, will be attending the upcoming 2nd Annual Gala for Giving, slated for May 5th at Diablo Country Club. The fundraiser will feature a live auction of donated items like premium wines, limousine services, and vacation rentals, along with dinner and dancing to live music by local band Public Eye. Expecting more than 300 guests, LaBelle sees the party as an opportunity not only to bring Down syndrome families and supporters together but to introduce the group to a wider audience. “One of my main goals is to educate the community and let them know how they can become involved,” she emphasizes.

For more details on the organization’s offerings, visit www.dsconnection.org. To contribute an auction item, or to become a Gala sponsor, email LaBelle at nancy@dsconnection.org or phone (925) 362-8660. 

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