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by Patty Cheffey
When Kate and Tony Dougherty’s son, Elliot, was born with Down syndrome, they never dreamed that a few years later, Kate would be leading the national organization, dedicated to improving the world for individuals with Down syndrome.
But that’s what happened when the family traveled to the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) in New Orleans, where Kate was elected president of the organization.
It is because of their son, the Doughertys got involved with the NDSC.
“When our son, Elliot, was born, we stalked the NDSC website for the latest up to date information to guide our medical decisions, therapy and educational choices for two years before attending our first NDSC convention in San Antonio, Texas in 2011,” said Dougherty about how she and her family got involved in the program.
“Once there, we quickly realized the information that was being shared had application for every child and after being questioned by Nancy Gianni, the founder of Gigi’s Playhouse Achievement Centers on what we were going to do to help others with Down syndrome, we came home and founded our non-profit Down Country, which uses Down syndrome as the voice of how every child learns,” Dougherty added.
Since that time, Down Country, a 501(c)3 with no paid staff or employees, took 23 people to the convention in Washington, D.C., and over the course of the next decade have increased the numbers they have brought from the Tri-State area to its all time high this year of 150 people.
Dougherty said she is honored to have been elected president of the NDSC as it celebrated its 50th birthday.
“For the next three years, I will get the opportunity to be a voice not just for our community, but for others across the globe who rock that extra chromosome known as Down syndrome,” she said. “It is my hope and prayer that with this new position, I will be able to bring a voice for our rural communities and broaden access and inclusion to the national level on behalf of all those with Down syndrome and their families and friends.”
Founded in 1973, the NDSC is the oldest and largest organization on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome, Dougherty said, adding the NDSC is the leading national resource of support and information about Down syndrome, from the moment of diagnosis, whether prenatal or at birth, through adulthood.
“The purpose of the NDSC is to promote the interests of people with Down syndrome and their families through education, medical information, advocacy, public awareness and information,” she added. “The NDSC works to empower individuals and families from all demographic backgrounds, as we reshape the way people understand and experience Down syndrome.”
The NDSC has also worked to foster a network of local and regional groups across the country to reach out and embrace thousands of people with Down syndrome, their families, friends, and the professionals who support them.
“The Down Syndrome Medical Interest Group, a conference for educators; a general convention, a sibling conference, a youth and adult conference for self advocates and a kids camp are all pieces of the unbelievable convention supporting full life access and inclusion for all,” Dougherty said. “It is the one-of-a-kind NDSC giant family reunion feeling that permeates the convention weekend that brings them back year after year.
Next year’s convention will be in Orlando, Fla., July 20-23, at the Ritz Carlton/JW Marriot Orlando Grand Lakes. If anyone is interested in attending or volunteering, please feel free to reach out by email to email@example.com.
In the meantime, the Doughertys and Down Country are busy organizing their second annual Awareness to Acceptance concert series, featuring Chris Janson to the stage at the Marion Country Fairgrounds in Palmyra, on Sept. 3. Michael Ray will be opening.
Tickets are available right now at a reduced rate with 100 percent of the proceeds from sales going to Down Country at www.upatdowncountry.com or may be purchased in person at the Rebel Pig in Palmyra.
Questions, may be directed to Dougherty, who is also the president of Down Country, at 217-617-3568 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The organization plans to make the #Awreness2Acceptance charity concerts an annual event.
To learn more, go to Down Country’s website www.upatdowncountry.com, email email@example.com or Call 217-617-3568 for more information or if you are interested in becoming a Down Country sponsor or to volunteer for the upcoming events!
If anyone is interested in learning more about the National Down Syndrome Congress, please visit www.ndsccenter.org.