By Mika Hartman
What makes a person valuable? It is not about money, that would make you wealthy. It’s about being helpful and useful. A valuable person will have a positive energy and they will be someone who attracts others by being trustworthy and dependable. Having a positive look on life and circumstance will always have a warmth we all crave.
What I didn’t say is that being valuable is being perfect. It’s not. The common valuable traits are: Integrity, loyalty, compassion, kindness, honesty, humility, spirituality and selflessness. Reread that. The common valuable traits are: Integrity, loyalty, compassion, kindness, honesty, humility, spirituality and selflessness. Not anywhere in this list does it say a word about genetics. Actually, our friends with Down syndrome, I believe, are born with an extra helping of all the valuable traits listed above. Why don’t more see their value?
Let me share with you some of my friends who make this world a better place. They all share these valuable traits and all were born with an extra chromosome. These amazing people are daily spreading love and kindness; through determination and pure heart, they are breaking barriers for my son’s future. From running million dollar companies to literally being an Iron Man Champion, there is no mountain an extra chromosome can stop them from climbing.
I will start with one of my personal faves, John Cronin. John owns John’s Crazy Socks. From crazy socks to weekly dance parties, John approaches each day with an unstoppable spirit and love for life. He has a Facebook show where he literally spreads kindness. John is running the largest online sock store and he hires people with disabilities to work with him. He has a wonderful family beside him, but make no mistake, John is the boss. Check his company out: johnscrazysocks.com. John rocks!
Austin Underwood is another fave! He owns Austin’s Underdawgs, a hot dawg food truck, and he created his own Austin’s Underdawgs Dawg Sauce. I have a bottle and this sauce is amazing. Austin attended Eastern New Mexico University designed for people with limited abilities and earned Prep Chef at the University. His love for food and his determination led him to owning his own business and now his love has him traveling around in the Dawgmobile. Austin estimates that he has sold more than 50,000 hot dawgs. Please congratulate Austin on his upcoming marriage to his love, Jenny. Breaking all glass ceilings. Check out his business @austinsunderdawgs.com. Go Austin!
Mississippi's own, Morgan Tibbens, owns and operates DaBombs by Morgan. Bath bombs, bath salts and soap are handmade with extra love. Morgan and her mom, Denise, travel all over to bring these fabulous bath bombs to areas near you. You can even buy everything online @dabombbymorgantibbens.com. I have met Morgan. Her smile will melt you and she shows up to work. In her spare time, she travels all over to find all Elvis impersonators and show her love for the King of Rock & Roll. Morgan's business was created when she was having a hard time getting accepted to college, that she needed to work on her social skills, per the school. Well Mississippi State, she is running a successful business and spreading kindness all over our state. Morgan has value.
I have dangerously ordered too many cookies from Collettey’s Cookies (not really, you can’t order too many). Collette Divitto had a hard time finding a job, so she created one. Collette’s love for baking lead her opening a cookie business. Her perfect response to her unintentional fame is, “why are people so surprised”. Collette’s signature cookie is the best cookie I have ever eaten: The Amazing Cookie (Chocolate Chip Cinnamon). Collette is in a new series on Peacock and Crave called Born For Business. She ships all over and has gluten-free options, too. Visit her @colletteys.com. You don’t need an occasion, order today. Collettey and her cookies are the sweetest.
One of our favorite things to show support is to wear yellow and blue. If you are wanting to wear it, too, check out 21 Pineapples. Nate created this business to show off his love for his life and his super fun personality in shirts. The 21 is for the extra copy of the 21st chromosome and the pineapple represents friendship and a welcoming hospitality. Together, 21 Pineapples represents Down syndrome friendship while the pineapple truly wears a fun crown… it is perfect. I think my favorite shirt is the “Try Not To Suck” shirt, but they are all fantastic. Check out some cool duds @21pineapples.com. Nate will have you looking almost as cool as he does.
At the age of 21, YES 21, Chris Nikic became the first person with Down syndrome to finish an ironman triathlon. His accomplishment earned him the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance as part of the 2021 ESPY Awards. Chris is now 24 and still breaking barriers. He says his mission is “to honor God by being the best me I can be so I can be an example to others”. He recognizes that we ALL have GOD-GIVEN abilities. Chris asks: What wouldn’t you do if you knew you could not fail? With this determined heart, he created the 1% Better book that is inspiring and actionable. He has already inspired a movement in our Down syndrome community, but has a message we all could learn from.
Charlotte Woodward was the first person with Down syndrome to receive a heart transplant in the United States. Her team saw her personal value. Yes, you read that right, it wasn’t until 2012 that a US doctor made the decision to give a life saving transplant to a person with Down syndrome. Charlotte asked this, “Many people with Down syndrome in society aren’t considered to be candidates for an organ transplant, and that begs the question, whose lives are valuable?”… And for this she works tirelessly to bring needed change to our whole country. Many states have adopted laws to protect individuals with Down syndrome, including Mississippi, but having it be a federal law of our land is Charlotte’s mission. Charlotte holds an associate degree from Northern Virginia Community College and recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from George Mason University with a bachelors degree in sociology with a concentration in inequality and social change. She is a staff member with NDSS. I have been on big calls with this lovely woman and her heart is mega huge! Charlotte, you amaze me!
David DeSantis, Zach Gottsagen and Lily Moore have all been in my home… on my big screen! These amazing friends have amazing acting abilities. From laughing to crying, you’ll experience all the emotions when watching their movies. I have met both David and Zach and they both impressed me with there ability to articulate and communicate how to follow your dreams. They both are motivational speakers and they both encourage people to live life to the fullest and go after the life you want. I know one day we will not say “the actor with Down syndrome”, just “actor” will do! Zach Gottsagen was the first Academy Awards presenter with Down syndrome in 2020. The message is powerful: Follow your dreams! They do every day.
Truthfully, all I am listing (and more) are my favorites. Each individual inspires me just like Hudson does. I will finish with my friend, Sophie Slack. I am good friends with her family. Sophie lives in West Virginia and loves building robots and competes in robotic competitions. She writes computer programs and Sophie loves being creative. Her parents were told not to expect much from their first born. Actually, the amount of negative comments they received pains me. Each and every negative comment has been proven wrong or false. This beautiful person loves life, people, learning and educating others; Sophie is a self-advocate. From law changes to being the face of the West Virginia ABLE Accounts, she is making a valuable difference in the world. Sophie is almost 19 and is a powerhouse. You are super cool, Sophie!
Movies to check out:
Peanut Butter Falcon
Where Hope Grows
Color My World With Love
Honestly, I could go on and on. From Kayla McKeon, Sofia Jirau, David Egan, Sofia Sanchez, Blake Pyron, and many others breaking barriers, each of you amaze and inspire me. And to the rising advocates, like Caleb Prewitt, Sara Nye, and Mississippi’s own Josh Williams, you are making the world change for the better. Remember only you can set your limits. Keep going, I am cheering for you all.
Don’t misunderstand me, you do not have to do big things or have your name in lights to have value. Each person can decide what they were born to do; I think we can all agree that a diagnosis should never limit a person. Period. Encouraging people and cheering for them, even if they have challenges, is something we all need. Actually, if a person has a harder time accomplishing goals, shouldn't they be the ones we cheer louder for? If you'll read this closely, you'll see that many of my friends above were not given a chance, they created their opportunities; and they nailed it.
It is my job to provide Hudson with all the tools he needs to live his best life; building pizza boxes or running for President of the USA, he gets to choose. A seat at the table is all that is needed. It’s likely that he will not be a brain surgeon or an astronaut; however, he will have integrity, loyalty, compassion, kindness, honesty, humility, spirituality and selflessness… Hudson is EXTRA valuable. I can’t wait to see what he chooses. I will be cheering the loudest.