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Finding Community in Middle Tennessee

Valerie's husband and two children pose on the front steps of their house.

Valerie moved to Tennessee in 2016 to be closer to her extended family and was pleased to find a vibrant Down syndrome community to support her daughter Ella, as well as her whole family.  

A three-year-old with Down syndrome, Ella enjoys coloring and playing with her water table. Valerie was excited to learn that Nashville is home to GiGi’s Playhouse. The playhouse is part of a national network of Down syndrome achievement centers, providing free educational programs and tutoring for kids and adults with Down syndrome. 

 “I want new parents to quickly find places like GiGi’s Playhouse so that they know there is a community here in Tennessee that celebrates our friends with Down syndrome and the many gifts they bring to the world,” Valerie said. 

Valerie is also active when it comes to having conversations with legislators. She often tag teams with other moms to meet with their representatives to talk about the issues they care about.

“It’s important that your representatives know there are people in their communities who care about disability issues.”

Valerie is specifically passionate about ensuring there are employment options for her daughter as she gets older, “We can and must do so much better when it comes to employing people with disabilities in community-based employment. There’s so much benefit for society when everyone has access to employment opportunities.”

In her outreach efforts, Valerie has been supported by the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee (DSAMT) as well as the Tennessee Disability Coalition.        

During the 2018 legislative session, Valerie and other advocates showed up in their legislators’ offices to support a bill which pushed for more up-to-date resources about Down syndrome to be made available on the Tennessee Department of Health’s website. This information includes information about first call programs and local parent support organizations, like DSAMT and GiGi’s Playhouse. 

 “As a parent, the memory of receiving that diagnosis is etched in my mind. It’s essential that families are able to access accurate and updated resources and support in their communities so that they can learn and grow in their child’s diagnosis. I’m thrilled this legislation passed, and doctors will now have a centralized resource in Tennessee to steer new parents.”

 Valerie encourages other family members and kids with all types of disabilities to speak up when it comes to policies that will either positively or negatively impact their everyday lives. 

 “You don’t need to be perfect or understand all of the pros and cons of every piece of legislation. Just go and make your presence known to your legislators. Let them see what disability looks like up close and what’s working or not working for your family. They’ll take that information and the next time something comes across their desk that affects the disability community, they can hopefully make things a little better in Tennessee.”