South Charlotte Weekly
Annual fundraising 5K race scheduled for March 21
The Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte (DSAGC) will host its third 3-2-1 Dash for Down Syndrome 5K race, starting at Blakeney Professional Center at 8:30 a.m. on March 21. This run raises money for DSAGC’s educational program, Together in Education (TiE).
Stephanie Cook, DSAGC education director, said the organization’s educational programs cost $84,000 annually, which comes primarily from the 3-2-1 Dash.
“Having these events is essential,” she said. “Unlike a lot of our programs where participants pay fees, the school program is completely free of charge to schools.”
DSAGC’s Executive Director Kathryn Lariviere said, “It’s important that we are able to support the school districts free of charge, so fundraising is crucial. Both as the executive director of DSAGC and as the mother of Cam (Lariviere’s 10-year-old son who has Down syndrome), I am thrilled that the DSAGC TiE program is available to support teachers to benefit students with Down syndrome.”
TiE supports area schools, parents and students by providing education development training opportunities for teachers. TiE also works as a liaison between parents and schools when planning and implementing the best educational practices for each student’s individual needs.
TiE currently supports six school districts – Mecklenburg, Union, Gaston, Rowan, Cleveland counties in North Carolina and Fort Mill in South Carolina, reaching approximately 400 students with Down syndrome.
Cook, who worked as a licensed school psychologist and counselor with CMS for five years, said, “Children with Down syndrome have a unique learning style. We teach teachers how to moderate the classroom, train parents about special education policies and provide them with personal training on IEPs, school suggestions and homework strategies.”
Cook said the most expensive portion of TiE falls in professional development opportunities. DSAGC provides three to four professional development conferences annually to a team of 15 Down Syndrome specialists, appointed by the six school districts.
Ann Jolly is an exceptional children elementary program specialist at CMS. Before taking on this role, she worked as a special education teacher in the school district for 20 years. She was appointed as a CMS DSAGC Down syndrome specialist at the end of last year.
Jolly said TiE has been instrumental in helping her provide a “meaningful education for all students.”
“Having the most current information allows us to make informed decisions and support families,” she said. “We are working with DSAGC’s TiE program to help us identify areas of difficulties and provide targeted support, provide training sessions to CMS staff during summer teacher conferences and to see how we may better facilitate meaningful, positive IEP meetings.”
Jolly said CMS has partnered with DSAGC’s TiE program to provide training for additional CMS staff members.
“The first training session was held on Jan. 23 and we are planning additional ways to partner and build capacity,” she said.
This year’s Dash for Down Syndrome takes place on World Down Syndrome Day, an internationally-recognized day of celebration meant to bring awareness and foster an appreciation for people with Down syndrome.
After the race is over, participants, community members and friends and families with people with Down syndrome are invited to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day at Elevation Church in Blakeney.
Elevation is sponsoring the entire carnival-style World Down Syndrome Day celebration with bounce houses, an obstacle course, hands-on games for children, corn hole, popcorn, cotton candy, sno-cones, hotdogs, cookies and lemonade.
Susan Spantgos, community outreach coordinator at Elevation Blakeney and a resident of south Charlotte said Elevation has always sponsored the Dash and felt compelled to partner with DSAGC to provide a special celebration in accordance with the holiday.
“It is very exciting that the Dash will also have a World Down Syndrome Day event for the first time this year,” Lariviere said. “We couldn’t do it without the generosity of Elevation Church.”
Spantgos also said she was personally enthusiastic about World Down Syndrome Day. Spantgos’ 22-year-old daughter Catherine has Down syndrome. She said DSAGC has been a great support system for her family since her daughter’s birth.
She was happy to help build a partnership between DSAGC and Elevation Blakeney. Spantgos said, “I am a firm believer that all people are given incredible gifts and talents from God and it is up to all of us to give everyone an opportunity to let their light shine.”