This past weekend, Joe and I had the pleasure of attending a Down Syndrome Conference (Forecasting the Future) in Overland Park, KS. A special thanks to my sister Lisa and Joe's parents for watching the girls so that we could get away for a couple days.
There were a few other people from Omaha who attended the conference as well, so it was nice connecting and catching up with them, as well as meeting many other people from the 5 state area.
The three morning keynote speakers were great! I enjoyed hearing and learning from each of them. The first speaker was a mother to a grown man with Down Syndrome - she is a very active leader in the National Down Syndrome community. It was inspiring and uplifting to hear her (and her son's) amazing journey. He's a COLLEGE GRADUATE!! She is certainly (and rightfully so) one proud mamma.
The third speaker, George Capone, was a Neurologist. He was very interesting and shared the latest updates, as it relates to research, genetics, mental health functions, sleep studies, behaviors, etc. (I did not take notes, so it is difficult for me to recap his talk - but it was insightful).
The second speaker was my MOST favorite. A gentleman by the name of Michael Cardella spoke to us next. He is 30 and has Down Syndrome
(I pulled this bio from the national Down Syndrome Congress site - I think it describes him best)
Michael Cardella is a dually Certified Toastmaster and the Sergeant-at-Arms of Thorobred Toastmasters in Saratoga Springs, NY. He is a member of the Self Advocacy Association of NYS Speakers Bureau, representing self- advocates with disabilities across New York State, and is an alumnus of AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).
Michael was a 1998 graduate of Schuylerville High School receiving an IEP diploma. He was always educated with, and graduated with his nondisabled peers.
An avid self-advocate, Michael is also a graduate of Partners in Policymaking, and was chosen to represent NY State in Project Leadership in Washington, DC, a project of national significance for advocates and self-advocates across the Nation.
Michael has done keynotes, workshops and presentations at numerous conferences, statewide and national groups, and has done keynotes in New York, Washington, DC, and as far away as Guatemala and the Bahamas. He is a frequent presenter at the NDSC Conferences, including doing “Maki with Michael,” his sushi workshop for self advocates. His personality and unique sense of humor comes through in his speaking, gripping audiences everywhere.
Additionally, Michael has been competitively employed in his community since graduation. He is currently an employee of both Applebee’s (for 9 + years) and Hannaford (for 3+ years). His choice has been to continue working part-time because he insists, “I don’t want work to interfere with my life.” Michael truly has a great life, and he will share that in his presentation.
It was so incredibly inspiring to watch this young man stand up on that stage, full of confidence, before a crowd 250+ people. He delivered an eloquent, personal, and humorous presentation. It was ALL about HIM. He used Power Point to share photos and to keep him on track. It was awesome to meet him and hear his story. Most importantly, it was AWESOME to hear HIS story told by HIM!
A line he kept referring back to throughout his speech was (and he made the entire audience say it with him): "God don't make Junk". He was also quite proud to show several pictures displaying his photo on the big screen in Times Square. Quite the celebrity! Oh and he's best friends with Chris Burke (Life Goes On star). hehe
Certainly gives me (someone who is still very new to this whole Down Syndrome world) an optimistic glimpse into tomorrow.
Here's to hoping our sweet Little Miss Macy is as intelligent, well-spoken, poised, calm, cool and collected as this bright young man. I believe she WILL be.