Spreading Respect: Woman with Down syndrome speaks to local schools, executive director promotes love

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By Anna Skinner

If there’s one thing Fishers mom Laura Druetzler loves most about Down Syndrome Indiana, it’s the Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome group that her husband Chaz joined when she was pregnant with their son Luke, now 3.

“My husband loves the DADS meetings,” she said. “When I was pregnant with (Luke), we found out he had Down syndrome. (Chaz) went to a meeting before (Luke) was born, and it was kind of a lifeline for him. Everybody there just said congratulations, and that’s what he needed at that point. He saw they were just normal families, and at first you feel like you’re the only one out there and it helps to see that the families, they’re all the same.”

Down Syndrome Indiana has been an Indianapolis-based nonprofit since 1996, and it has more initiatives than the D.A.D.S program. Executive Director Lisa Wells, Fishers, travels to local elementary schools with Alissa Kahl, a 26-year-old with Down syndrome.

Kahl, also of Fishers, speaks to students about the importance of not using the R-word and about spreading respect.

“Basically (I speak) about just being aware of your friends, you know, like having respect for your friends with Down syndrome because they need to be respected, too,” she said. “I want the R-word banned, and make it about respect instead, because when they hear the R-word it makes them feel like they’re less of a person.”

Kahl has spoken at Lantern Road Elementary School and Hamilton Heights Elementary School, and she recently applied to speak to the Arc of Indiana, which aids adults with disabilities with learning, living and working in local communities.

“I just think that when children learn the importance of respect at a young age, it really helps shape their future views,” Wells said. “I think it’s really comforting for parents to meet with Alissa because they will know it’s going to be OK, and their child has a bright future and can be like Alissa.”

Wells has served as the executive director since 2008, and she has been with Down Syndrome Indiana since 2006.

“My passion has always been really volunteering with individuals with disabilities,” she said. “DSI is everything I ever wanted in a job. I believe very deeply in the inclusion of people with Down syndrome and the rights of people with disabilities. I’m just lucky to work on their behalf.”

Get involved

The Down Syndrome Indiana Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome group is hosting its annual holiday party from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at Recreation Unlimited, 15150 Herriman Blvd., Noblesville.

Various playsets and child-friendly events will be available, and DSI Executive Director Lisa Wells encourages families with children with Down syndrome to attend.

In addition to the upcoming event, DSI hosts several other events during the year, including golf outings for the D.A.D.S group, family picnics, the Buddy Walk and more. Wells said there are various volunteer opportunities for those wanting to get involved.

For more, visit dsindiana.org.


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