On Saturday night, I realized a dream: to be asked to share my message about Down syndrome at an event benefiting one of the leading Down syndrome charities in the nation. As I approached the podium and looked out over an elegant ballroom full of people decked out in their finest formal wear, I delivered a very dignified speech about farting, menstrual cycles, and a cooler full of booze.
We may not keep it classy, but we keep it real. Aunt Leanne makes sure of that!
Last weekend was the culmination of so many things and people I love, coming together in one place, that it makes me emotional just to reflect on it.
1. I got to see my family.
2. I got to see my sister dance.
3. I got to share my message in support of a cause I love.
Our family had the great honor of being asked to appear at the GiGi's Playhouse Gala in Moline, IL. GiGi's Playhouse is a Down syndrome achievement center with academic, therapeutic, career, and social programming customized for individuals with Down syndrome of all ages. GiGi's has locations throughout the nation and it's growing at a rightfully astronomical rate!
One of the cornerstone programs GiGi's offers is the literacy program, that's designed around research that targets the most effective way children with Down syndrome learn to read. It's at GiGi's Playhouse where Josie discovered her love of reading. Check out this old video (and read more about Down syndrome and literacy HERE).
So we packed up and headed to the land of Lincoln where we met Mama Hop and Aunt Leanne.
What a sweet reunion it was. We had not seen them since Thanksgiving! That's way too long between visits.
We got to our hotel room where I rehearsed the speech I would give at the gala that night for Mama Hop and Aunt Leanne. They listened intently and applauded when it was over. I asked Leanne if she wanted to hear it again and she replied, "No. I'm too tired. Maybe later."
The speech was good but it wasn't that good!
The girls got to indulge in a local delicacy: Whitey's ice cream. It was a hit!
Then, we were met by our former nanny, "Never Ever Megan" and her love, "Chicago Ricky," (Josie bestowed these nicknames) who were kind enough to drive from - you guessed it - Chicago, to keep the kids while us adults went to the gala. I regret not getting a picture of these two because they are an absolutely lovely couple, both of whom volunteer at GiGi's Playhouse. We love you Megan and Ricky!
Do you know who else we love? This guy...
...that's our cousin, Steve. When his wonderful wife, Jen, found out that we'd be in Illinois to speak at the GiGi's Playhouse gala, she got a hold of Steve, rearranged existing plans, secured childcare, and headed to the Quad Cities to support us. We feel blessed to know such kind-hearted people, let alone, call them family. They're pretty incredible dancers, too!
The auction was fun, the dinner was tasty, the speaker was decent (haha!), but the highlight of the night was definitely the DANCING!
GiGi's Playhouse program participants kicked off the evening with a terrific choreographed dance number that had everyone in the ballroom smiling from ear to ear!
Then, the rest of us flooded the dance floor. There was clapping, pointing, bootie shaking, spinning, and dipping. Lots and lots of dipping!
Leanne danced and she danced and she danced (check out a video clip, HERE) until she literally found a chair and collapsed. I've never seen anything quite like it, Folks. To be in the presence of such energy and enthusiasm is a remarkable experience. It doesn't get much better than that!
My favorite picture of the night is of the embrace I received from Travis and Leanne after I delivered my speech. Talk about capturing a sweet moment that will have permanent residence in my memory.
Photo credit: Cousin Steve
I'd like to extend heartfelt gratitude to Mama Hop, Aunt Leanne, Travis, our girls, Megan, Ricky, Steve, Jen, Michelle, and everyone else who came together in support of this incredible organization that does so much for individuals with Down syndrome. The world is better because you're in it.