It was the sound of laughter and the sight of beautiful smiles that made the Share the Passion Calendar Gala such a delight to attend. From the red carpet arrival to the dining and dancing, there was a sense of infectious joy spreading throughout the evening.
Aside from its beauty, Antebellum Oaks Venue provided the loving, nurturing and carefree environment perfect for the guests of honor. In an outdoor environment like this, guests with Down syndrome engaged in numerous shared activities like playing, dancing and socializing. But, what struck me the most was that I saw joy as they engaged with one another. And, when I looked over at the parents of these individuals, like Karen Weiss, I saw them beaming with happiness as they watched their children.
The gala was held on Saturday, September 15th and kicked off with the red carpet arrival of those featured in Share the Passion 2013, a 12-month calendar featuring individuals with Down syndrome sharing their passions with local celebrities. “Share the Passion” demonstrates that individuals with Down syndrome have the ability and the desire to engage in life-enriching activities and that they share these passions with others. Celebrities featured in the calendar include Congressman John Carter, The Bellamy Brothers, Sally Brown, Reckless Kelly and actor Ernest James.
It was a special night for these individuals. They arrived by limo with their celebrity friends and families, and they walked the red carpet posing for pictures and waving to “fans.” Volunteers and friends cheered and applauded for these calendar models. The appreciation was uplifting and brought out the precious personalities of these special individuals, but it was also truly deserved because they are serving as educators and advocates of Down syndrome.
Throughout the banquet area, photographs taken from the calendar were on display for guests to enjoy. Taken by local photographer Bill Ledbetter, these photographs aim to break down the common myths about Down syndrome and demonstrate that individuals with Down syndrome enjoy the same life-enriching activities that others do.
In the calendar, Ledbetter is quoted as saying, “Working with the DSACT calendar project has been very rewarding for me this year. I’ve been blessed to meet and photograph some amazing people enjoying life. I’d do it again in heartbeat!”
Like Ledbetter, many guests and volunteers felt lucky to be a part of this event. One volunteer, there on behalf of her company’s employee diversity group, told me that this was her second year to help out. She enjoyed it so much the first time that she came back again for another. And, members of the Texas Lassos, a student organization at the University of Texas in Austin, also volunteered their time. They recently adopted the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas (DSACT) as their charity of choice. It was noticeable how much fun these young ladies were having dancing and visiting with these special guests.
These individuals have some of the most beautiful personalities, and all it takes is getting to know them. Joshua is 28-years-old and loves to sing. He’s a member of DSACT’s social group for adults, so he loves it when the gang goes out for karaoke! He’s also a spokesperson for DSACT educating others about Down syndrome and advocating for individuals with Down syndrome on medical, education and legal issues.
DSACT works to increase public awareness, acceptance and understanding of the abilities of individuals with Down syndrome. They are the largest and most comprehensive organization for those affected by Down syndrome in Central Texas. Their programs focus on education along two vectors, teaching skills to those with Down syndrome and training parents, teachers and medical professionals to understand the specific needs of these individuals.
I learned a lot about DSACT that night. Everything I learned about the organization came from the personal testimonies of volunteers, parents and individuals with Down syndrome. So many seemed grateful for the organization.
Often times, I’ll ask myself, “Does the organization/event reflect the people it serves?” Well, this one truly did. DSACT’s vision of a world in which all members, including those with Down syndrome, are accepted, valued for their uniqueness, respected for their abilities and contributions and assumed the opportunity and choice to create their own path to fulfillment and success was less of an idea and more of a reality. To see a vision like this become a reality only means one thing—more joy in this world!