BURLINGTON, Mass., March 17, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Leonard P. Zakim Bridge, the iconic landmark that overlooks parts of downtown Boston and the Boston Harbor, will be aglow in blue and yellow on March 21 to celebrate World Down Syndrome Awareness Day.
Two years ago, the Zakim Bridge was equipped with state-of-the-art lights, which allowed it to shine brighter and with a range of colors. Since then, it has often been used to celebrate special occasions.
For the Down syndrome community, there is no more special day than March 21, World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. Down syndrome is defined by a person having 3 copies of the 21st chromosome, hence 3/21.
People from throughout the region have said they were overjoyed with the recognition.
"I have a 6 year old daughter with Down syndrome and I am beyond excited to see this," said Jennifer Rahwan, a former waitress at the Pour House in downtown Boston who left her job to be home with her daughter. "I want to take a picture of this. Finally the world is getting things right and recognizing Down syndrome."
"I love Boston," said a mom from Sharon. "My 2 year old daughter has Down syndrome and March 21 is also her birthday! This is so exciting!"
The excitement extends beyond Boston. For Michele Pellissier-Hoenig, the recognition on March 21 is meaningful despite her distance from the bridge. "Even though I am now living in Philly, this is special to me because of the many times I passed that bridge to go visit my son in the NICU and go to doctors appointments at Children's Hospital," she said.
In fact, the impetus for the bridge lighting came from somewhere just as close to Albany, New York as Boston, Mass. The idea was hatched by Toby Dowling of South Hadley, President of the Down Syndrome Resource Group of Western Massachusetts. Dowling's sister has Down syndrome and her sister-in-law, Paula Simmons, works at Mass Highway, which manages the bridge. Simmons used her connections to make the bridge lighting happen. "I wanted to celebrate my wonderful sister-in-law, Theresa, and the rest of the Down syndrome community on this special day," Simmons said.
"The mission statement of our group is to discover, encourage, and embrace the potential of all individuals with Down syndrome," Dowling added. "Before we can do those things, there must first be awareness and recognition of our community. The lighting of the Zakim is symbolic of the progress that has been made over time. There is still much work to be done. I hope that the Zakim Bridge glowing in blue and yellow for Down syndrome is another step on a much longer path of acceptance and understanding. We would like to extend a very special thank you to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for being a leader in and new partner with our community," she said.
"We are thrilled to be able to celebrate World Down Syndrome Awareness Day here in Boston in such a public way," said MDSC Executive Director Maureen Gallagher. "This display of support for our community resonates in a profound with so many of our members."
On Saturday, March 22, the day after World Down Syndrome Awareness Day and the Zakim lighting, the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress will hold its 30th Annual Conference at the DCU Center in Worcester, bringing together regional and national experts on a range of topics related to Down syndrome. This year's theme "Champions!" is based on the Boston Strong mentality of people coming together to overcome challenges and the positive sense of community pride that has developed as a result.
The conference will feature:
- Crocker Award presentation to Special Olympics CEO Tim Shriver
- Leadership Award presentation to Massachusetts Sen. President Therese Murray
- Leadership Award presentation to Richard and Nancy Donahue of Lowell, whose son Philip has Down syndrome
- Regional and national experts, including UMass Medical Professor Jeanne D Lawrence, who gained international fame last year after showing that Down syndrome could be "silenced" in a lab.
- Keynote address by John Dunleavy, a young man with Down syndrome, who recently gave a pre-game pep talk to the Boston Bruins
The MDSC's Annual Conference is among the largest educational events on Down syndrome in the nation. It brings together over 600 people with Down syndrome, their family members, health care professionals and educators from across New England attend our Annual Conference on Down syndrome. Participants gather to hear the latest research findings and timely information from national and local experts on a range of topics related to Down syndrome. They also share stories, celebrate victories, advocate for acceptance and inclusion, and reunite with other MDSC families. The conference features presentations that will appeal to families with young children through adulthood and families with children who have complex medical needs and autism. In addition, there will be presentations that will appeal to educators, medical professionals, and siblings of individuals with Down syndrome.
About Down Syndrome
World Down Syndrome Awareness Day is celebrated annually on March 21. This date, 3/21, was chosen because Down syndrome occurs when a person has three (rather than two) copies of the 21st chromosome. One in every 691 babies is born with Down syndrome. Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades - from 25 in 1983 to more than 60 today. People with Down syndrome attend school, work; participate in decisions that affect them, and contribute to society in many ways.
About the MDSC
As we have over the past three decades, the MDSC continues to ensure that all individuals in Massachusetts with Down syndrome are valued, included, and given every opportunity to pursue fulfilling lives. In the early years, parents met in a living room to share information about their children, provide support for each other and strategize how to educate their families, schools and communities. More than 28 years later, the MDSC has over 3,000 members, an energetic Board of Directors, a dynamic management team, and a vision to ensure that every person with Down syndrome has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. Today, the MDSC is on the cutting edge of Down syndrome advocacy at a time when an innovative, forward-thinking vision is needed.
The MDSC offers a broad array of programs to serve people with Down syndrome and their families throughout the state, including: our signature Parent's First Call Program, a volunteer, state-wide group of trained parent mentors available 24/7 that is a national model; two major annual conferences that draw national and international experts in their fields; a Buddy Walk® Program that gives individuals, schools, community groups, and local businesses an opportunity to get involved in fundraising campaigns and events year-round; Self-Advocate Programs like Advocates in Motion and our Self-Advocate Advisory Council, which provide opportunities for teens and adults with Down syndrome while making empowerment a central component.
Photos accompanying this release are available at: