Breakfast with Santa provides creative opportunity for networking
COLUMBIA - A networking event for children and families affected by Down syndrome connected people across Mid-Missouri this morning.
The Mizzou Down Syndrome Advocates (MDSA), a student organization founded by members in Mizzou’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity, reached out to the Central Missouri Down Syndrome Family Network, a local organization founded by three mothers in Columbia. Together, they coordinated Breakfast with Santa.
Davis Hurth, a member of both Beta Theta Pi and MDSA, said the student organization was created last spring because they noticed Mizzou did not have any groups specifically for those affected by Down syndrome. Hurth said he and several of his fraternity brothers have close friends with Down syndrome, which inspired them to create MDSA in hopes of raising awareness and helping those with the disorder.
Kate Basi, one of the three founders of the Central Missouri Down Syndrome Family Network, said their community organization stemmed from a need to connect families in the area who had kids with Down syndrome. She discovered MDSA when Davis reached out via Facebook.
The two groups began sharing ideas, and the Breakfast with Santa was organized fairly quickly, Basi said. MDSA is able to provide the necessary volunteers that the family network needs to coordinate events, and Basi said MDSA did a wonderful job.
Andrea Elsbury, the mother of a four-year-old with Down syndrome, agrees.
“I think it's extremely important to bring the Down syndrome families together to network,” Elsbury said. “We're able to get advice and outlooks as far as what it's like to raise a child with Down syndrome.”
There are children and adults ranging in age who come from various cities throughout Central Missouri, and the breakfast today welcomed a few new faces into the network.
“I know there's a lot more families in the Central-Missouri area who are affected that I think would really benefit from connecting with others,” Elsbury said.
“That's why we started the group at Mizzou and held this event - to connect as many families as possible,” Hurth said. Increased community connection is what members like Hurth work towards.
“We want to bring families from all over, like those in rural areas who may not know about the family network but have a child with down syndrome and feel a little lost or don't know what to do, and introduce them to others so they can see they're part of a bigger community,” Hurth said.
The family network is an offshoot of the larger organizations in Kansas City and St. Louis, which provide resources including educational conferences and parenting tips specific to raising a child with Down syndrome.
However, Basi said the Mid-Missouri division is emphasizing family support.
“By and large, the Missouri Down Syndrome Family Network is there to facilitate connections,” Basi said.
Since this group is smaller and newer than those in Kansas City and St. Louis, Elsbury offers her experience. She was a member in Kansas City, and after moving to Columbia, got involved here.
“When I moved to Columbia that was my goal - to bring my experience from the network in Kansas City so everyone could have the same opportunities I did there with all the events and families that were involved,” Elsbury said.
Connecting with others has positively affected her parenting. Elsbury said that sometimes children with Down syndrome have other medical issues, so it’s helpful to be able to talk to other parents about that aspect to make sure there aren’t other underlying health concerns. The older children and their parents who have more experience with doctors can give advice about different routes to take medically, she said.
“Ultimately, we just want to know we're providing the best care for our kids, so it's nice to have that input from other parents,” Elsbury said.
In addition to allowing parents to network, the children have a chance to meet and play with others with Down syndrome.
“When they're smaller it's more about the parents, but when the kids get older then they start to have friends,” Basi said. “And that's a really important thing in a special needs family.”
Hurth was the first, but not the last, to share genuine stories about his enjoyment spending time with children who have disabilities.
“When you look past the disability physically and get to know the person or child for who they are, it’s really special to make that connection,” Hurth said. He emphasized that these children are just like any other and deserve to have the same fun and the same opportunities.
These ideas are the foundation of MDSA.
“We try to reach out to as many students as we can because there are so many people who have been affected by Down syndrome, whether it's a family member or a friend,” Hurth said. “We want to make the family network as large as we can, and also get people at Mizzou aware about people with disabilities.”
Elsbury said she wants these children to feel included and be recognized for their abilities.
“They need to know that they're not different from anyone else; they all have their separate personalities and range from more or less independent, just like any other child can be,” Elsbury said. “They really are a pure joy to be around and a blessing to have in our lives. Everyone should experience hanging out with someone like that.”
Both groups agree this is only the start of their collaborative efforts, and are working on plans for future events.
“Today is a symbol of the beginning of this partnership,” Basi said. “I have really high hopes that we can have more outreach to the community, and it's not so much education as it is to help the larger community realize that there's nothing to be afraid of.”