Connexions Blog

"Building stronger communities by sharing inspiration, advice, and best practices that work".

Ds-connex Presents: The Fourth Annual Super Sibs Contest

By Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

This October, in observance of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we are excited to once again recognize the Super Sibs of our loved ones with Down syndrome! Siblings tend to be very aware of the impact of having a brother or sister with extra needs, and we often hear amazing stories about how they love, encourage, and embrace both the highs and lows of their relationships with their siblings with Down syndrome. We want to take the opportunity to highlight these examples because we believe that children are the key to the future of an inclusive world. Furthermore, we know that these Super Sibs are key players in leading this movement.

Please join us in applauding the amazing sibling relationships within the Down syndrome community. We have met so many wonderful siblings in the last few years, and we can’t wait to read and share about your Super Sibs!

Contest Details:

Contest entries should be submitted via email to, beginning 9/23/19. All submissions will require a photo with a brief story (3-4 sentences) of how the sibling is supportive of their family member with Down syndrome

We will accept submissions through the end of October. Randomly selected entries will be used as content for the ds-connex Facebook page beginning 10/1. All submissions will be included in an album to be hosted on the ds-connex Facebook page, which will be posted at the end of October. By entering into the contest, you are granting ds-connex permission to edit your submission for grammar and/or length, and use the submitted photo and story in ds-connex social media posts and website. We will only use the first name of siblings in our promotions.

We will randomly select two winners on Tuesdays in October (10/8, 10/15, 10/12 and 10/29), for a total of 8 winners, who will each be awarded $25 gift cards. Winners will be announced on the ds-connex Facebook page on each Tuesday afternoon in October. Winners can select to receive gift cards from the following: Amazon (e-gift card), Target, or Barnes & Noble.


Walk Team Spotlight - Sweet Anna Sue of the GRADSA Buddy Walk®

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

On Saturday, September 28th, GRADSA will celebrate its 2019 Buddy Walk® in Owensboro, Kentucky. GRADSA is fortunate to have many teams fundraising on its behalf, and with their help, they have exceeded their fundraising goal for this year's event! One such team, Sweet Anna Sue, honors a young lady who certainly lives up to her team’s name.

  Sweet Anna Sue - collage

Anna Sue and her family have been raising money for GRADSA since she was just a baby, and they will celebrate their 6th Buddy Walk® this year! Ds-connex had the pleasure of featuring Sweet Anna Sue on our blog back in March 2016, and we were so happy to catch up with the team once again to chat about Anna Sue’s progress and how they are preparing for this year’s walk event. We had the pleasure of talking with Anna Sue’s mom, Cindy, to discuss this year’s Buddy Walk® event and recent accomplishments.


Anna Sue has been quite a busy young lady since we last checked in with her family! The most recent excitement was sparked when she started attending Kindergarten a few weeks ago, and so far, “she is blowing everyone away!” Cindy shared that Anna Sue walks into the classroom each day, puts down her backpack, and announces her arrival to her teacher and classmates. We just love to hear about her confidence! Cindy went on to share that Anna Sue has “grown leaps and bounds with her speech and independence,” and she “can’t wait to see the progress this year.” So far, Anna Sue’s experience at school has been “tremendous,” and Cindy is very impressed with the support system in their town and school. Cindy is hoping to get the entire school involved in the GRADSA Buddy Walk®. There are several individuals with Down syndrome who attend the same school as Anna Sue. Last year, their school participated in the Rock Your Socks campaign, and several other local schools and the Daviess County Circuit Clerk’s office joined them. They plan to participate in the celebration again in 2020!


In addition to the sock fundraiser, Cindy employs several fundraisers to allow them to reach their team’s fundraising goal year after year. She uses Facebook to reach out to family and friends online, but she also writes a letter to previous donors to ask for their continued support, and even includes a return envelope to make it easy for them to contribute. She drops off an event t-shirt order forms to employers of friends and family members, and their team receives donations as a result of those efforts. Last year, Cindy worked with her sister to host a chili lunch fundraiser. They made 15 gallons of chili, and supporters purchased the lunch and then enjoyed it in a cafeteria surrounded by signs about Down syndrome, to build awareness. The company that hosted the fundraiser then matched the proceeds, helping Cindy raise over $1100 for that event! This year, they plan to host two lunch fundraiser events.

  Sweet Anna Sue - Soccer

This year, Cindy also added a t-shirt fundraiser for her team. So far, she has sold over 100 t-shirts and has even used some of the proceeds to purchase a shirt for all of Anna Sue’s kindergarten classmate. What a terrific way to build awareness in the new classroom environment!


No matter how supporters contribute to the success of their team, Cindy is diligent in sending a handwritten thank you card which includes a photo of Anna Sue. This practice is sure to help ensure the continued support of these donors, year after year!


Members of the Sweet Anna Sue can expect a wonderful time at the GRADSA Buddy Walk®! Cindy sets up a tent and decorates it, creating a comfortable gathering space for her team. Each team member gets a Sweet Anna Sue wristband and carries signs to show their support, and Anna Sue enjoys the walk from a festively decorated wagon. Aside from the fun celebration, Cindy hopes that her team members will see the Down syndrome community and how they laugh and play together, just being themselves, and realize that Down syndrome is more common than we realize. She wants them to see the abilities of individuals with Down syndrome, see how big and supportive the community and organization are, and how important it is to keep those elements strong for the success of the community.


Due to their successful fundraising efforts, team Sweet Anna Sue enjoys the wonderful incentives that GRADSA offers their team captains. Cindy is assigned a Buddy Butler at the event, which assists her during the event and is “so helpful!” In addition to that assistance during the event, Cindy has received a scholarship to attend the NDSC annual convention, which she calls the “most rewarding incentive EVER!” This type of incentive, which offers an “immeasurable experience” to families, helps Cindy stay on task with her fundraising. She shared that it is “amazing to see the programs, support, and specialists” that are available to the Down syndrome community, and spending time with other families allows her to know that her concerns are shared, leaving her feeling “encouraged, and not alone.” By attending the convention, Cindy can make connections with other GRADSA families at the convention, and then bring back what she learns to help their home community grow stronger. What a great incentive; it not only encourages team captains to raise money to benefit their immediate community, but also allows them to attend a national convention where they can learn and build connections.

Sweet Anna Sue - sign  

We were also happy to learn that Anna Sue and her family no longer have to travel as far as Boston to receive medical care. She is doing so well that she can now have evaluations closer to home, every few months, to continue monitoring her progress.


We hope that Anna Sue and her family have a wonderful time at this year’s event! You can join us in cheering on Sweet Anna Sue, and all of the amazing teams for the 2019 GRADSA Buddy Walk®, by visiting their Stride fundraising site:


This post is part of our ongoing Walk Team Spotlight blog series, which profiles Down syndrome walk teams by sharing their unique backstories, as well as fundraising, recruitment, and networking tips. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon! Submit your story ideas to:

Walk Team Spotlight - Team Double D of the Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk®

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

On Saturday, October 12th, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. will celebrate its 12th Annual Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk® in Dothan, Alabama. Hoping to raise $60,000 this year, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is counting on the support from their great Buddy Walk® teams to help them reach their fundraising goal. Double D is one of those teams; they will celebrate their 10th year at the event in October. We were so pleased to have an opportunity to connect with Brandi and learn more about her team.

  Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk - key

Double D, which stands for Deese and Devine, honors Brandi Deese and Mike Devine. These best friends bowl together in the Unified Bowling League in Dothan. Brandi shared that she and Mike once had a Galaxy Bowling fundraiser for their team, and she has also placed containers in restaurants to collect change. Brandi also owns a business called Scribbling B; she colors and frames pictures and sells them at the Buddy Walk®, donating the proceeds to the event. This year, she even had a 2020 calendar made of her artwork and $1.00 from each calendar sold goes to her team. She sold out of her first order of 100 calendars within 24 hours of receiving them!


Brandi hopes that her friends and family members on Team Double D will learn more about Down syndrome and focus on her abilities. Her wish is that everyone would include individuals with Down syndrome in their activities so they can get to know them better. Brandi plans to decorate her tent at the walk with checkered flags and “have our usual boiled peanuts for our team.”  Brandi explained, “We have a good time under our tent fellowshipping with each other but the fun part is seeing all the buddies and their family members. It is like a family reunion each year.”


This year, the event will honor Hometown Heroes. Brandi enjoyed watching Top Chef this year; the winner, Kelsey B Clark, is from Dothan and owns KBC Restaurant. Brandi was selected to represent the USA at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi last year. She won a silver medal and a seventh-place ribbon in the competitions and was selected as one of three athletes to represent the USA in the closing ceremonies. She was also awarded a key to the city from the Mayor of Dothan upon her return home. Brandi and Kelsey will be featured as Hometown Heroes at the Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk® this year, and they will be featured in advertisements by their city’s Visitors Bureau soon.

  Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk - medal

The money raised at the Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk® funds several wonderful opportunities for the Down syndrome community in Dothan. Brandi shared that they have “an awesome F.R.I.E.N.D.S. support group that has monthly activities for its members, as well as grants, educational support, and new parent packages. We are so fortunate that Buddy Walk® funds go to our group and we are very fortunate that we have an awesome coordinator, Alicia Sims, who organizes the event each year. She loves all the buddies and works very hard on this yearly event.”


We are very excited to watch the progress of Team Double D this year, and we’ll be cheering on all of the great Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk® teams as they work to reach their goals! You can show your support by visiting their Stride fundraising site.


This post is part of our ongoing Walk Team Spotlight blog series, which profiles Down syndrome walk teams by sharing their unique backstories, as well as fundraising, recruitment, and networking tips. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon! Submit your story ideas to:

Walk Profile: Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks Step Up for Down Syndrome

Walk Profile: DSGO Step Up for Down Syndrome
Walk Date: Saturday, September 14, 2019
Location: High Street Baptist Church - Springfield, MO
Walk Registration Website: DSGO Step Up for Down Syndrome Website

On Saturday, September 14, the Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks will host their 2019 Step Up for Down Syndrome event. Hoping to raise $50,000, this event is DSGO’s largest awareness and fundraising event of the year. It is through the generous support from the community that the DSGO is able to extend their reach farther into the Ozarks area. We had the pleasure of learning more about the event from Jen Welton, President of the DSGO Board of Directors.

DSGO Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk

Jen has an older brother, Trent, who has Down syndrome. Trent is 52 years old and enjoys reminding Jen that he’s the boss of her. “For someone who was told they wouldn’t live past two years old, he’s doing pretty well,” she said. After attending several DSGO event, Jen knew she wanted to be more involved and the Board fit her experiences, so she joined and describes it as the ‘best decision” she’s ever made!

This year’s event is a bit different than past events, as they have changed both the date and location. Jen explained, “In the past, our Step Up event was in June surrounding one of the Springfield Cardinal home games. We weren’t able to pick a weekend that worked best for our families. A big factor in moving Step Up away from the summer is that by the end of the walk, our families were so hot that the kids just didn’t have it in them to sit through a baseball game. Moving it to the fall was a request we heard quite often, so we moved it to September. Parking among the congestion of downtown was also a common complaint we heard. We are so blessed to have High Street Baptist Church as one of our organization’s biggest fans, and they gave us their back property to host this year’s Step Up.”

This year’s event will have a carnival theme, with bounce houses, balloon characters, face painting, cotton candy, food, dancing, and ”everything you can imagine!” Jen went on to share that the “celebratory walk will be held around the church’s baseball field. There will be tons of banners, and hopefully a lot of excited teams!”

DSGO Step Up for Down Syndrome Team Sign

Jen hopes that participants in the event will walk away feeling love and “completely worn out.” She continued, “There’s nothing quite like seeing a person with Down syndrome getting some of the most amazing attention. For those who don’t have Down syndrome, I want them to see that their family members matter to our community. We are one whole!”

Jen wants new families to know that this event is a day of fun and encouragement for those supported by the DSGO. Her advice is to “relax and know you’re around other families who have walked in your shoes. We’re stepping up beside you!”

With the funds raised by the event, the DSGO will be able to increase their educational and medical outreach efforts, offer more free and reduced-cost trainings and conferences, and provide scholarships to national conferences.

Jen hopes that the community will “come learn about our organization…your mind and heart will be blown away!” The Step Up for Down Syndrome event is open to the public, and you can show your support by visiting their fundraising site at

This post is a continuation of our Down Syndrome Walk Profile series. We’ll be profiling and highlighting Down Syndrome Walks from around the country in an effort to share the stories and experiences that make Down syndrome communities so vibrant and unique. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon.