A couple of years ago, Rachel and her daddy were able to go to the Olathe City Council meeting where they met Olathe Mayor, Michael Copeland. He did a Down syndrome awareness month proclamation. I wasn’t there but apparently Rachel was quite a hit with the group and the audience. I think more than the Down syndrome was the fact that you had a confident 12-year old-young lady who would take the microphone and speak to a group in a way that most adults would find intimidating. The fact that she had Down syndrome was just another way for us to show the world the abilities of those with Down syndrome. During that event, the chair of the Olathe sub-council, Persons with Disabilities Advisory Board, met Rachel and Jonathan and it turned into an opportunity for me to share with that group about all the positive things happening for people with Down syndrome, some of the ways we still need to improve, and how we can partner to make things happen. It was a fun time.
Last year the Mayor recognized me for the work I had done with the National Down Syndrome Society and our Congressman and Senators. Of course, I feel you can’t recognize me without recognizing Rachel so she was up at the podium and had her opportunity to tell about her work, too. In the course of all of this, Rachel and Savanna were invited to share Just Like You-Down Syndrome with the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Board. Some of them have in turn shared it with others. The chair of the committee is impressed with Rachel and contacted me to ask if he could nominate Rachel for an Olathe Community Access Award. I said sure. I provided him with some information and a few weeks ago we were contacted to say she would be recognized at a reception.
Thursday evening the City of Olathe hosted the Community and Accessible Community Awards. Based on the information we had received, we thought it would be a sweet little reception where a few people would be recognized for their work, and there would some light appetizers. We invited a few of Rachel’s faithful supporters and went.
It was sweet but it was not little! The event was to recognize individuals “who have been actively involved in improving the quality of life, advancing cultural diversity and advocacy of human relations for all Olatheans.” Provided by Olathe North Culinary Arts program (number one in the nation), the food was like a like dinner buffet and was quite delicious. Beautiful music by the Olathe North Orchestra and Jazz Band. There were 12 award winners (including two youth) and they were all impressive. Rachel was the youngest.
When we arrived we were told that I could say a few words when Rachel received her award. However, it was her award so I ask her and she said she wanted to give her own speech. She also said she did not need us to go up with her. We quickly wrote down a short little speech. She practiced it a few times. A mutual friend who would also receive an award and knew Rachel would go to Olathe South High School (home of the Falcons) came and whispered something in her ear.
I was hoping that she wouldn’t go rogue and start talking about Baby Sally and Marisol when she got up there. When her name was called, with great pride and confidence she marched to the stage and accepted her award. She took the mic (like a pro) and exclaimed, “WOW!” She turned to the presenter and told him how honored she was. Then, she said the speech we had written. Then she closed the short speech with “Go Falcons cause that’s the way we roll.” Seems our mutual friend had told her to say this. She beamed with pride and trotted off for an interview. Rachel received her award primarily for her advocacy work with Senators Roberts and Moran and Congressman Yoder, her speaking especially in conjunction with the “Just Like You – Down Syndrome” video and for just being Rachel.
That night I thought a lot about the evening. Honestly, it is almost embarrassing to receive as many accolades as Rachel has. We have not set out to win awards or recognition. We have set out to do our part. From before she was born, I knew that we would want to do our part. I knew that God created Rachel and us with a beautiful purpose. I believe that to whom much is given much is expected. So we have just set out to do what we believe we are called to do. Along the way, we’ve been able to do and be a part of some pretty incredible projects. None of those have we done on our own. They are all the result of playing in the sandbox with others who share our vision and trying to make the world better for individuals with Down syndrome.
In that moment it seemed appropriate for her to end her speech with “Cause that’s the way we roll” because that is truly all this is. It’s the way we roll and the way we will keep rolling.
Congratulations to Rachel and thanks to the Mark Gash, nominator, and the City of Olathe for a beautiful experience in a beautiful community.
By the way the awards program says that “the Accessible Community Award is presented in recognition of individuals and/or entities for meritorious service, perseverance or determination in the pursuit of disability inclusiveness.”