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Celebrating World Down Syndrome Day at Chapel Haven in New Haven

Down Syndrome Association of Connecticut and Chapel Haven get together for day of awareness

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day, and those at the Chapel Haven Schleifer Center and the Down Syndrome Association of Connecticut got together for a day of festivities.

"A lot of people don’t know anything about Down syndrome and we want them to understand that Down syndrome can be a really good thing. There’s nothing to be afraid of there’s nothing to be worried about," said Shanon McCormick, the Executive Director of the DS ACT, who also has a son with Down syndrome. 

Throughout the day, Chapel Haven adults put together signs, palm cards, and went on a wellness walk in the Westville section of New Haven. The goal was to raise awareness about Down syndrome. They also hosted a silly sock parade, where everyone wore mismatched socks.

"With the message that Down syndrome is just as normal as anything else and you can have a happy and vibrant life and that’s what we’re all about at Chapel Haven Schleifer Center," said Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, VP of Admissions and Marketing at Chapel Haven.

Chapel Haven is a school and transition program serving more than 250 adults with a variety of abilities and needs. They spend their time learning to live on their own. 

"I’m always doing something," said Anna Reagle, who lives at Chapel Haven.

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On top of taking classes, Reagle works at Yale New Haven Health and she's getting ready to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games this summer. She hopes to be an example for others.

“The part of Down syndrome, and the part of World Down Syndrome Day, is it does not define who we are," Reagle said.

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Erin Prause, a Teaching Assistant with the DS ACT Literacy and Education Center, feels the same way.

"I have a big role," Prause said. “The students have a disability, and Down syndrome and I am their role model."

Prause recently became a teaching assistant after serving as a volunteer at the Literacy and Education Center for a while. Now, she has a job that she's proud of.

"We want people to learn, and that's why we are celebrating here today because we want other people to hear how amazing this program is, so they can get their education so other people can join," Prause said.

The Literacy and Education Center would like to add more educators and teaching assistants to their program to take on more students.

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"We serve around 20-30 students per semester. We would like to serve more and we're always looking for more tutors, who have a background in education or certification that would like to be trained by us," said Melissa Bengtson, Program Coordinator at the DS ACT Literacy and Education Center.

It's just one of the programs DS ACT has to help those who are living with Down syndrome grow and thrive. 

“My son is 24 and he still surprises me," McCormick said. "So, you know, have high expectations. That’s, that’s what I’d say.”

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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