At Chicago Cares, we believe that every person can have a positive impact on their community through volunteerism. Often, truly embracing this belief means that we need to learn more about specific communities to discover how to engage all people in meaningful service.

A few weeks ago, our staff was delighted to welcome representatives from the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS). The mission of NADS is to ensure that all persons with Down syndrome have the opportunity to achieve their potential in all aspects of community life.

Julia and Michelle serve as self-advocates and are excited to share stories about how volunteer service has helped shape their lives. Along with their mothers, Julia and Michelle provided an informative presentation on Down syndrome, answered our questions and helped us to understand the challenges they face on a daily basis.

After their presentation, we asked Julia and Michelle to answer a few questions for the blog so that our volunteers could get to know these two amazing young women.

1. How old were you when you started volunteering?

Julia: I was in Girl Scouts from K-6th grade and Religious Ed. from K-9th grade. With both of these groups, I helped in doing service projects. From age 15 to present , I help in assistant teaching religious education to a kindergarten. classroom. At age 16 to present, I am doing an internship at a nearby pre-school. I began self-advocating last year, sharing my story with students and residents.

Michelle: I was involved in many volunteering projects and events through my school, Girl Scout Troop, and Religious Education classes.  I started volunteering with service projects when I was six years old and when I was 12 years old I began volunteering at the Public Library with the summer reading program.

2. Where is your favorite place to volunteer?

Julia: My favorite place to volunteer is in the hospital doing presentations with my mom.

Michelle: I liked being a greeter at the check-in tent at the Chicago Air & Water Show Sponsor Area.  Giving speeches at meetings about Down syndrome and the National Association for Down Syndrome is one of my favorite volunteer jobs.

3. How do you feel about yourself after you complete a volunteer project?

Julia: I feel very proud after I complete a volunteer project.

Michelle: I feel great and have fun volunteering.

4. Does having Down syndrome cause any challenges in your volunteer activities?

Julia: Taking my time and planning things out and keeping a routine schedule helps me learn more. It may take me a little longer, but I do learn.

Michelle: Some projects are hard so they take me a little longer but I ask for help.

5. What do you wish more people understood about Down syndrome?

Julia: We are all given special gifts and we are most lucky to have them both on the inside and out.

Michelle: I think people should understand that people with Down syndrome are like other people and they want to have good lives.  People with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome but they are not all the same.

6. What do you hope for as you become and adult?

Julia: As I grow up, I would like to continue working with small children and help my aunts out at their pre-school.

Michelle: I want to keep learning things and get a job when I am done with school.  I want to be a stagehand and give people playbills at theatres.

Thanks to Julia, Michelle and everyone at NADS for educating Chicago Cares on Down syndrome and helping us continue to grow in service!