Thursday, February 17, 2011

Our Own Shannon Driscoll Writes

Reprinted with permission from the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress February 2011 e-Newsletter

On October 1, 1979, the Pope came to Boston and so did I. My name is Shannon Driscoll and I turned 31 years old on October 1, 2010. I am an adult who was born with Down syndrome. I am the middle child. I have an older sister, Danielle, and a younger sister, Jacqui. Neither of my sisters live at home. This past July, I was the maid of honor in my sister Jacqui's wedding.

My parents tell me that I had early intervention when I was a baby. I went to Tuft's New England Medical Center to the genetics clinic. I went to a program once a month at Children's Hospital Boston. I went to a speech group in Dorchester and went to school when I was 3 years old. I did not have serious medical problems when I was born, but went to a lot more doctors than my two sisters. I have had many sets of tubes in my ears. I am on medicine for a thyroid problem. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea last year, so I have to wear a sleep mask every night. It is not as bad as I thought it would be and I feel more awake and energetic each morning. Basically, I am very healthy. I still go to my pediatrician, Dr. Sisson, when I am sick because my parents and I really like her.

I lived in South Boston until I was 5 years old and have been in Braintree ever since. I went to Boston Public Schools, St. Coletta Day School, and then the Braintree Public Schools. In addition to learning reading and math in elementary school, I starred in many plays such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, and Mary Poppins. I always loved school and I still love to learn new things. I take reading, writing, and math at Massasoit Community College one night a week. I never get tired of learning. I have six college credits in child care and I would love to get my associate's degree. Braintree High School was my favorite school. I was in the Project Prove Program for students with special needs and took other classes such as English, Spanish, Italian and Drama. I made many new friends in Project Prove and outside of my class.I am glad my friends accepted me for who I am.

Now that I am out of school, I work at Stop and Shop in Braintree. I was hired as a bagger but then promoted to cashier. I love cashiering but I still help bagging when they need me. I get paid holiday pay, vacations, and raises every year.I am in the union at Stop and Shop. I also attend South Shore Industries in Braintree which is a workshop. I go there when I am not working because I get to see all of my friends.

I am involved in many activities. I belong to the Arc of the South Shore and go on outings one Saturday evening a month. We go to plays, restaurants in the North End, sports events and many other places. I go to Friendship Club in Norwell, where we make dinner, play board games, and just socialize with one another. I also bowl once a week, and play basketball as well as softball. I swim for the Special Olympics on a team known as the SHARCS. I also volunteer on Saturdays in a program called Super Saturdays, which is for young children in Braintree who have special needs. I volunteer at Gillette Stadium to raise money for our activities. For all you football fans please come to the Barbecue Blitz in Section 140 and come to my register. I am usually very busy but I like it this way. I am known as a social butterfly. I love to write when I am home in my bedroom. I also use the computer every day. I email my friends and I belong to Facebook. I recently bought myself a laptop with money I have saved. My mother is happy because now I am not always on her computer.

I have many friends. Three of my girlfriends and I take turns having sleepovers at each of our homes. We watch movies, have "girl time", and just love being together. I also have a best friend.

I am going on a cruise to the Bahamas with my friends in February. This trip is sponsored by Friendship Home in Norwell.

There are many things that I would like to do in the future. I have always loved to write, especially poetry, letters, and in my journals. I really enjoy photography. I also love public speaking and taking care of animals, especially dogs. My favorite dog is my sister's English bulldog named Hazel. Someday in the future I would like to take care of animals and become a veterinarian or a veterinarian's assistant. I would also love to be a public speaker. Since I love to write I would love to write articles or submit my poetry to either a magazine or to a newspaper.

I feel I am entitled to pursue my dreams like my two sisters did. It is harder for me, but so far I have achieved what others have achieved. Things just take me longer.

I have a great family who love and support me, but at 31 years old, I don't like being the only one at home with my parents. I would love to live with my friends who have common interests but for right now, that is not an option because there is no funding for me to be able to live on my own.

Right now, I am engaged to my fiancé, Michael Goodhue. Someday we would like to get married, but this is going to be difficult because I still need to pursue a career I enjoy and I still do not have housing.

Even though I have Down Syndrome, I never give up on my dreams. I have a great life. I love my life.

Thank You.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Education Unlocks Potential

Swampscott's Jonathan Derr advocates for people with Down syndrome and others with disabilities to go to college.

By Terry Date

In Jonathan Derr’s mind, school is a mighty thing.

The 31-year-old, who has Down syndrome, graduated from Swampscott High School — and Cape Cod Community College.

Today he works two jobs and is on the road to getting his driver’s license.

But education has been the key to his life.

It has fed his mind and made work, a social life and driving possible.

Now, he wants others with disabilities including Down syndrome to have a shot at college.

High School

Derr, at home in his family’s Swampscott living room over the holidays, said he arrived to a crossroads early in high school.

He had attended Marblehead schools since he was a child because of the special programs the district offered. Then, early in high school, he changed directions because he did not feel challenged there.

Derr pauses before he speaks, then speaks carefully, choosing words that reflect what he wants to say.

“Mom called Swampscott High,” he said. “It was amazing. All my friends were there.”

He transferred, completing his sophomore through senior years at the school, which, by then, could support him.

“Basically, I found life,” he said.

He managed the lacrosse team, helped the basketball team and played on the golf team.

Every Friday he went to someone else’s house for dinner.

Also, he was challenged academically.

“I kind of focused on the books more,” he said. “History, math, science, wood shop, health.”

He graduated at 18 years old.


At 18, Derr learned about a program on Cape Cod that helps people with disabilities get ready for the outside world.

He also learned that he could attend Cape Cod Community College, one of the very few colleges in New England that offer programs for students with Down syndrome.

Derr learned cooking, office, retail and maintenance skills. He graduated from both the life skills and college programs.

He has worked six years at a golf course, starting out shagging balls on the driving range then, in 2006, being promoted to the Pro Shop.


More recently he has taken his experience back to the classroom, telling younger students with disabilities that their futures are bright if they work hard.

“No one likes to be held back,” he said.

Programs that bring students with disabilities and students without them together benefit both groups, he said. They learn more about each other.

His mother, Jo Ann Simons, President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushign Centers, chairman of the National Down Syndrome Society and other organizations that advocate for people with disabilities, says Masachusetts is a leader in post-secondary education but not in the education of students with disabilities.

Brian Skotko, a doctor at Children's Hospital Boston who advocates for people with Down syndrome, says they have proven that with appropriate support they do succeed in grade schools and high schools.

Many people with Down syndrome want to develop their talents to find meaningful employment but few colleges around the country give them that opportunity, he said.

“We need more postsecondary opportunities for young adults with Down syndrome,” Skotko said.


Derr’s opportunity gave him a chance to learn.

He said he has watched and interacted with others and learned from them.

“I’m slow,” he said. “I like to watch people to see what they can do.

Basically, what I learned was that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Check out

Talk about long, strange trips. Nick Morse has been on one. He was born in Boston, lived at first in Cambridge, then Hingham, then Newton and Wellesley, then Hanover where he attended the Cardinal Cushing Center for 10 years. He now resides in a group home in Watertown. He has an extraordinary pedigree -- his grandfather on his deceased mother's side, Alexander Rotow, founded color television for RCA. Perhaps it's not a surprise that Nick, despite his special needs, has applied a love of color to his art. His father has taken him to many vibrant rock concerts with spectacular stage shows -- Green Day, Aerosmith, Tool, Pearl Jam, Roger Waters, Jimmy Buffett and Godsmack to name a few -- and Nick has absorbed them all. They have also caught many animated movies and action films and have spent a lot of time at the Museum of Fine Arts looking at the work of Impressionists from Monet to Van Gogh. Nick's eyes light up when surrounded by beautiful art, and his Dad's light up to see him so happy. "He has been the love of my life", says Steve Morse, Nick's dad and former music critic at the Boston Globe for 30-plus years.

Nick Morse can be contacted at:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Congratulations to our Sue Martin

A Good Story to Share on a Cold Day

I tried not to be biased, but I had my doubts about hiring Stevie. His placement counselor assured me that he would be a good, reliable busboy.

But I had never had a mentally handicapped employee and wasn't sure I wanted one. I wasn't sure how my customers would react to Stevie.

He was short, a little dumpy with the smooth facial features and thick-tongued speech of Downs Syndrome. I wasn't worried about most of my trucker customers because truckers don't generally care who buses tables as long as the meatloaf platter is good and the pies are homemade.

The four-wheeler drivers were the ones who concerned me; the mouthy college kids traveling to school; the yuppie snobs who secretly polish their silverware with their napkins for fear of catching some dreaded "truck stop germ" the pairs of white-shirted business men on expense accounts who think every truck stop waitress wants to be I shouldn't have worried. After the first week, Stevie had my staff wrapped around his stubby little finger, and within a month my truck regulars had adopted him as their official truck stop mascot.

After that, I really didn't care what the rest of the customers thought of him. He was like a 21-year-old kid in blue jeans and Nikes, eager to laugh and eager to please, but fierce in his attention to his duties. Every salt and pepper shaker was exactly in its place, not a bread crumb or coffee spill was visible when Stevie got done with the table. Our only problem was persuading him to wait to clean a table until after the customers were finished He would hover in the background, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, scanning the dining room until a table was empty. Then he would scurry to the empty table and carefully bus dishes and glasses onto his cart and meticulously wipe the table up with a practiced flourish of his rag. If he thought a customer was watching, his brow would pucker with added concentration. He took pride in doing his job exactly right, and you had to love how hard he tried to please each and every person he met.

Over time, we learned that he lived with his mother, a widow who was disabled after repeated surgeries for cancer. They lived on their Social Security benefits in public housing two miles from the truck stop. Their social worker, who stopped to check on him every so often, admitted they had fallen between the cracks. Money was tight, and what I paid him was probably the difference between them being able to live together and Stevie being sent to a group home. That's why the restaurant was a gloomy place that morning last August, the first morning in three years that Stevie missed work .

He was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester getting a new valve or something put in his heart. His social worker said that people with Downs Syndrome often have heart problems at an early age so this wasn't unexpected, and there was a good chance he would come through the surgery in good shape and be back at work in a few months.

A ripple of excitement ran through the staff later that morning when word came that he was out of surgery, in recovery, and doing fine.

Frannie, the head waitress, let out a war hoop and did a little dance in the aisle when she heard the good news. Marvin Ringers, one of our regular trucker customers, stared at the sight of this 50-year-old gra ndmother of four doing a victory shimmy beside his table

Frannie blushed, smoothed her apron and shot Marvin a withering look.

He grinned. "OK, Frannie, what was that all about?" he asked.

"We just got word that Stevie is out of surgery and going to be okay."

"I was wondering where he was. I had a new joke to tell him. What was the surgery about?"

Frannie quickly told Marvin and the other two drivers sitting at his booth about Stevie's surgery, then sighed: " Yeah, I'm glad he is going to be OK," she said. "But I don't know how he and his Mom are going to handle all the bills. From what I hear, they're barely getting by as it is." Marvin nodded thoughtfully, and Frannie hurried off to wait on the rest of her tables. Since I hadn't had time to round up a busboy to replace Stevie and really didn't want to replace him, the girls were busing their own tables that day until we decided what to do.

After the morning rush, Frannie walked into my office. She had a couple of paper napkins in her hand and a funny look on her face.

"What's up?" I asked.

"I didn't get that table where Marvin and his friends were sitting cleared off after they left, and Pete and Tony were sitting there when I got back to clean it off," she said. "This was folded and tucked under a coffee cup"

She handed the napkin to me, and three $20 bills fell onto my desk when I opened it. On the outside, in big, bold letters, was printed "Something For Stevie."

"Pete asked me what that was all about," she said, "so I told him about Stevie and his Mom and everything, and Pete looked at Tony and Tony looked at Pete, and they ended up giving me this." She handed me another paper napkin that had "Something For Stevie" scrawled on its outside.. Two $50 bills were tucked within its folds.. Frannie looked a t me with wet, shiny eyes, shook her head and said simply: "truckers."

That was three months ago. Today is Thanksgiving, the first day Stevie is supposed to be back to work..

His placement worker said he's been counting the days until the doctor said he could work, and it didn't matter at all that it was a holiday. He called 10 times in the past week, making sure we knew he was coming, fearful that we had forgotten him or that his job was in jeopardy. I arranged to have his mother bring him to work. I then met them in the parking lot and invited them both to celebrate his day back.

Stevie was thinner and paler, but couldn't stop grinning as he pushed through the doors and headed for the back room where his apron and busing cart were waiting.

"Hold up there, Stevie, not so fast," I said. I took him and h is mother by their arms. "Work can wait for a minute. To celebrate your coming back, breakfast for you and your mother is on me!" I led them toward a large corner booth at the rear of the room.

I could feel and hear the rest of the staff following behind as we marched through the dining room. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw booth after booth of grinning truckers empty and join the procession. We stopped in front of the big table. Its surface was covered with coffee cups, saucers and dinner plates, all sitting slightly crooked on dozens of folded paper napkins. "First thing you have to do, Stevie, is clean up this mess," I said. I tried to sound stern.

Stevie looked at me, and then at his mother, then pulled out one of the napkins. It had "Something for Stevie" printed on the outside. As he picked it up, two $10 bills fell onto the table.

Stevie stared at the money, then at all the napkins peeking from beneath the tableware, each with his name printed or scrawled on it. I turned to his mother. "There's more than $10,000 in cash and checks on that table, all from truckers and trucking companies that heard about your problems. "Happy Thanksgiving."

Well, it got real noisy about that time, with everybody hollering and shouting, and there were a few tears, as well.

But you know what's funny? While everybody else was busy shaking hands and hugging each other, Stevie, with a big smile on his face, was busy clearing all the cups and dishes from the table. Best worker I ever hired.

Plant a seed and watch it grow.

At this point, you can bury this inspirational message or forward it fulfilling the need!

If you shed a tear, hug yourself, because you are a compassionate person.

Well.. Don't just sit there! Send this story on! Keep it going, this is a good one.