Connexions Blog

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

Andrew's Root Beer Float Stand

Andrew's Root Beer Float Stand

Author: Chase Wagner, ds-connex intern

Our motto at ds-connex is “Empowering Down Syndrome Communities”. Through my work with ds-connex, I have found that these four words are the pinnacle of our organization’s efforts and motives, but they fall short in capturing the passion and personal nature behind what we do and why we do it.

As an intern at ds-connex, I have had the pleasure of assisting dozens of Down syndrome advocacy and awareness groups nationwide in raising funds for their efforts by customizing event websites in our unique Stride platform. Knowing that each site I update and each email I send is working to improve and expand the capabilities of these organizations through increased funding is gratifying, but one of my most gratifying experiences happened just a few weeks ago.

Recently, I had the pleasure of planning, organizing, and finally executing a fundraiser called “Andrew’s Root Beer Float Stand” in our office building. Named after the fifth-grade son of my co-worker, Jen, who helped make, deliver, and excitedly add whipped cream and cherries to the floats, this event raised over $400 in just two hours for Team Alex at the 2019 Columbus Buddy Walk, benefiting the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio. I had an awesome time working with Andrew, a co-captain of Team Alex, and the ds-connex team including Jen, Dana, Amanda, Jena, and Emily throughout the process. It was great to see all the work we put in finally pay-off in a successful event, but it was even better knowing the larger goal we were working toward during those two hours on June 19th.

Alex, whom the team is named after, is the fifteen-year-old son of Jen and Andrew’s older brother. Alex is a rising high school freshman, a soccer player, a Buckeye fan, a track runner, a chicken fry lover, a basketball player, a dog lover, and my favorite, a game show fanatic. Alex just so happens to also have Down syndrome, but that is the least of what defines the amazing young adult that he is. It is for this reason that Team Alex exists and why the team's many fundraising efforts, including the root beer float stand, are so important. Team Alex raises funds and advocates for inclusion so that infants, toddlers, teenagers, and adults like Alex are supported and recognized for the amazing individuals they are rather than the extra 21st chromosome they possess.

I am glad to know Alex and his family, and I am thankful for the opportunity I have been given at ds-connex to be passionate and personal in the work we do to empower Down syndrome communities. Our motto might be just four words, but the passionate and personal nature by which we follow that motto makes all the difference.

Please help us build upon our efforts at “Andrew’s Root Beer Float Stand” by paying a visit to Alex’s Team Page. There you can find some awesome pictures of Alex and his family and can even donate to his team. With your help, we can ensure individuals like Alex have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Thank you to all those in the Community Corporate Center who generously supported us on June 19th and those who continue to support Team Alex through online donations. Lastly, thank you especially to Emily Leatherman for her amazing help with this event and to the entire ds-connex team for their tireless and inspirational work in passionately and personally empowering Down syndrome communities.

Walk Team Spotlight - Ella's Hope of the Columbus Buddy Walk®

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

On Sunday, September 29th, the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio will host their 2019 Columbus Buddy Walk®. With a $600,000 fundraising goal, DSACO hopes to once again have the strong support of their walk team captains to help them raise that record-breaking amount. Each year, many of their team captains begin fundraising on World Down Syndrome Day, when their Stride site opens (128 teams registered on 3/21 this year!), and work hard for months to help DSACO achieve their goal.

We were pleased to have an opportunity to chat with one of those determined leaders, Beth Stanley, who is the team captain of Ella’s Hope. Ella’s Hope is preparing to celebrate their third Columbus Buddy Walk®; they started walking in 2017 after Ella was born in March of that year. “We walk for all individuals with Down syndrome,” Beth shared, “and we are honored to do our small part in helping raise awareness.” When asked how the team name was created, Beth explained “Our daughter’s name is Ella Hope. We landed on the middle name of Hope because we have so much hope for who she is going to be and for the difference she’s going to make in this world. It seemed appropriate to gather family and friends together under the team name we chose, as we all have so much hope for Ella, and will rally around her with everything we have to give to set her up for success.”

Columbus Buddy Walk - Ella's Hope

And rally, they have! Between their first two Buddy Walk® events, Ella’s Hope raised more than $20,000 and donated over $1600 to other Columbus Buddy Walk® teams, to help those team captains reach their fundraising goals. Beth attributes their fundraising success to “meeting people where they are.” She explained, “we have a lot of runners and golfers in our circles, so we had a raffle with running related items last year and a race this year, along with an annual golf outing.”

This year, to kick off their fundraising efforts and celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, Beth and six other moms (five DSACO moms and two of Beth’s friends) planned and executed the inaugural Run for 321. “It was such a wonderful community effort to have several families connected from DSACO putting it together, and we had 17 individuals with Down syndrome there,” Beth shared. Their event, which will become an annual fundraiser, raised almost $6000! The funds were split up into $500 increments and donated to the first 11 teams to create a Buddy Walk team for the first time this year. “We thought it would be a warm way to welcome new families and give them a boost toward their fundraising goals,” Beth explained.

The Ella’s Hope team fundraising goal for 2019 is $5000. “We’ve decided to scale back a bit and not try to do so much,” Beth explained. “Last year we did five fundraisers in addition to recruiting people to be on our Buddy Walk® team, and it has gotten to be a bit too much as our kids get older and into more activities. Our one big fundraiser we’ll more than likely stick with is a golf outing in the fall.”

Columbus Buddy Walk - Ella's Hope

Beth’s family recruits team members by personally inviting people, handing out postcards, sending emails to co-workers, placing signs in their yard, distributing signs for others to place in their yards, posting on social media, and “talking about it with anyone who cares to learn more about what a great event it is for the entire family.” They really do a great job recruiting team members; about 100 participants registered for Ella’s Hope in each of their first two years at the event! By participating in the event, Beth hopes that their team members are “inspired to be the change they wish to see in the world. I hope they respond to calls to action wherever life takes them; that they know that inclusion matters, diversity is beautiful and that human rights should be held to the highest regard. I hope that they have hope for every person in this world and the difference he or she can make if given the opportunity; especially those with Down syndrome.”

This year, Ella’s Hope team members can anticipate a wonderful time. “We plan to hang out, celebrate, tailgate, eat, enjoy the festivities, and of course, complete the walk! Team members can expect a warm environment full of love and acceptance and an incredibly fun, family-friendly event,” Beth shared. “It’s such a grand event to celebrate differences and the way our community as a whole shows up to celebrate the Down syndrome community is truly remarkable. It’s a beautiful event we get to watch unfold each year and it leaves us full of gratitude for all of the love, support, and encouragement we have for one another and our kids. I would really encourage you to come out to experience the walk for yourself to really take in the magic.”

Ella’s Hope certainly helps make that magic possible with their incredible fundraising and team recruitment efforts. We can’t wait to watch their team’s success blossom this year!

To learn more about the 2019 Columbus Buddy Walk®, you can visit their Stride site. This post is part of our ongoing Team Spotlight blog series, which profiles Down syndrome fundraising teams sharing their unique backstories, as well as fundraising, recruitment, and networking tips. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon!

In Honor of Our Dads: The 2019 #DownSyndromeDads Contest is back!

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

In honor of Father’s Day and great dads of kids with disabilities everywhere, ds-connex is excited to announce the 6th Annual #DownSyndromeDads Contest to recognize and celebrate these amazing fathers!

    Contest Overview

Nominate the fantastic #DownSyndromeDads in your life by sending a photo and brief (one to three sentences), meaningful message about him to ds-connex. Please send your submissions to

downsyndromedads Fathers Day 2018

All photos and descriptions will be posted to a 2019 #DownSyndromeDads photo album on the ds-connex Facebook page. All nominators and #DownSyndromeDads are encouraged to promote the contest and ask friends and family members on Facebook to vote for them by liking their photo in the 2019 #DownSyndromeDads album.

The 1st prize winner will receive a $250 donation to their Down syndrome walk team along with a $100 Home Depot gift card. The second prize winner will be awarded a $100 team donation along with a $50 Home Depot gift card.

    Details for This Year’s Contest

The ds-connex team will collect #DownSyndromeDads nominations until midnight on June 10th. The Facebook album will be posted June 11th in the afternoon, at which time voting will begin. We will notify nominators via email when the album is posted and voting begins, and we will conclude voting on Monday, June 17th at 9:30am EST, when the winners of the contest will be determined. The winners will be chosen based on the total of likes (or reactions, to include “love,” etc) on the photos in the #DownSyndromeDads photo album on the ds-connex Facebook page during the voting period. The #DownSyndromeDads contest participants must observe Facebook’s policies. Please note that in order for your entry to be included in the voting, we must receive your entry by midnight on June 10th. We will happily include entries submitted after 6/10 in the Facebook album, but they will not be eligible for the prizes. Results of the contest will be announced on our Facebook page on Monday, June 17th.

    Please note…

We welcome participants in last year’s contest to re-enter with a new photo!

By nominating someone for the #DownSyndromeDads program, you are giving ds-connex permission to edit your submission for grammar and/or length, and to share your submission via the Connexions blog and across multiple social platforms, in order to raise awareness and appreciation of fathers in the Down syndrome community and all they do. The #DownSyndromeDads contest is sponsored by ds-connex.

We look forward to seeing your #DownSyndromeDads entries!

Ds-connex is excited to announce our new contest: MyVIP!

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

As parents, our journeys in the Down syndrome community are a rewarding, yet complicated (and often exhausting!) experience. We could probably all agree that it takes a village to support our families, and families in the Down syndrome community may need an even stronger tribe. Many times, teachers, coaches, paraprofessionals, caregivers, and mentors are proud members of our villages and play key roles in the lives of our loved ones with Down syndrome. To recognize these amazing relationships, ds-connex is proud to announce the My VIP campaign! Beginning Monday, April 15th, we invite you to submit a video or photo of your child with someone who plays an important role in their life. We can’t wait to celebrate those who make such a difference in the lives of kids with Down syndrome.

The nominators with the top three posts (the videos or photos with the most likes) on our campaign’s Facebook album will receive a $125 (first prize), $75 (second) or $50 (third) donation from ds-connex to their Down syndrome fundraising team along with a $25 Amazon e-gift card for their child’s VIP.

    How to Nominate a VIP

Starting Monday, April 15, 2019 you can nominate the terrific VIPs in your child’s life by submitting a video or photo and a brief story to Nominations may be submitted April 15th – May 5th. All entries must be received by the end of the day on 5/5 in order to be included in the contest. Please provide videos that are under 60 seconds in length, or high quality photographs (not photos copied from your social media accounts...those won’t render well when we post them!). We will post all nominations to an album on the ds-connex Facebook page on the afternoon of Monday, May 6th, when voting will begin. We will tally the likes each nomination receives on their respective video or photo in the album. The voting will close at 12pm EST on Monday, May 13, 2019. The winners will be announced later that day via the ds-connex Facebook page. All nominators, VIPs, and schools/organizations associated with the VIPs are encouraged to promote the contest and ask friends and family members on Facebook to like their nomination post. We also encourage participants to like the ds-connex Facebook page so they can stay informed of any upcoming contest opportunities.

    And the Winner Is…

The nominators for the top three posts (most likes on their album video or photo) will receive a $125 (first prize), $75 (second) or $50 (third) donation from ds-connex to their Down syndrome fundraising team along with a $25 Amazon e-gift card for their child’s VIP.


The three VIPs will be announced on ds-connex social media on the afternoon of Monday, May 13th. We will highlight selected nominations, chosen at random, throughout the campaign period.

By nominating someone for the My VIP campaign, you are giving ds-connex permission to share your submission via our Connexions blog and across multiple social platforms in order to raise awareness and appreciation of teachers, mentors, coaches, paraprofessionals, caregivers, and mentors in the Down syndrome community. Please note that this contest is sponsored by ds-connex.

We look forward to seeing your My VIP entries soon and hearing some great stories about the important people in your child’s life!