By Deanna Tharpe, DSAIA Executive Director
We preach inclusion and equal treatment in the Down syndrome community, but time and time again I meet groups with nothing but parents on their boards and nothing but parents organizing events and fundraisers. A board member came to me one time long ago and told me that they were leaving the board because they felt ostracized at every meeting. They explained that as a business owner, they felt that their talents and experiences would benefit the organization. However, at each meeting their comments were regarded with disdain and they felt it was because they did not have a child with Down syndrome. Whether this was actually the case or not, we all know that perception is reality. How sad that this wonderful resource took their toys and went home because they felt that we were not accepting of those different than us.
That is why I’m so excited that we have a session devoted to that topic at the upcoming DSAIA Leadership Conference. Janet Gora, Executive Director of the DSA of Greater Cincinnati, is leading a group of panelists in “Count Me In: How People Without a Connection To Down Syndrome Want To And Can Benefit Your Organization” twice during the event. You’ll hear from the panel about how they involve people without blood ties to people with DS in their organization. Then you can join in a discussion about the benefits and barriers and finally learn how to recruit, train and support those without children with Down syndrome in a variety of ways in your organization. I’m so pleased that Janet is giving attendees this opportunity because it couldn’t be needed more.
Now, you may think that my example is unique. I assure you it is not. Let me share some experiences of others from the upcoming breakout session:
- When it came up that I was not a parent of a child with Down syndrome, the mom said, “I’m so sorry.” It made me feel like an outsider and kind of strange.
- When I attend an event and someone asks if I have a child with Ds, and I say, "no," sometimes that ends the conversation.
- To be honest- I always felt like there is a sense of why are you here? It would go a long ways to be more accepting and encouraging of those that serve on the Board without blood ties.
If you read this and take away only one thing, let it be this: What is your group (and membership) missing out on by not taking advantage of individuals who WANT to serve? It’s worth your time to attend one of these sessions.