This World Down Syndrome Day, we’re highlighting the stories of two Aerie fam members: 2021 #AerieREAL Changemaker Liz Platcha and Abby Vernon, Aerie Senior Vice President of Aerie Apparel/Intimates + Offline Merchandising.
We asked both Abby & Liz to share their stories of becoming moms to children with Down syndrome, which inspired them both to advocate for Down syndrome awareness in their communities. Abby was recently President of the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh. Liz is the founder of Ruby’s Rainbow, a nonprofit organization providing scholarships to people with Down syndrome for post-secondary education. Ruby’s Rainbow is currently fundraising $500K to help 100 more people with Down syndrome go for their college dreams. Take the 3/21 Pledge to help them reach their goals! Learn more here.
Both of these amazing Aerie fam members are passionate about empowering the Down syndrome community, and the stories they shared with us about their advocacy journeys are truly inspiring! Keep reading to learn more.
What matters most to you about the work you do to empower your community?
Abby: People with Down syndrome are awesome! Just like everyone else, people with Down syndrome deserve to be valued and represented in this great world we all call home. I am committed to advocacy that empowers individuals with Down syndrome but also inspires others to make space in their lives for people with Down syndrome. Whether it is space to be a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a doctor, an employer…we will all benefit from these incredible relationships.
Liz: What matters most to me about the work Ruby’s Rainbow is doing to empower the community is just raising the expectation of people with Down syndrome and showing the world that they are amazing, capable and worthy humans who deserve it all!
Can you share a fun memory from your experiences within your community… something that you’d want the world to know?
Liz: Some of my favorite memories are my time spent on college campuses across the nation with our Rockin’ Recipients. It is so inspiring and brings me so much hope for my own daughter’s future to see our recipients gaining the confidence and independence they need to chase their dreams! It is also so amazing to see what an impact they are making in their own communities.
What was the moment that most inspired you to begin advocating for your community?
Abby: When I realized how wrong I was! Nine years ago I became a mom and a few days after delivering our daughter we learned that she had Down syndrome. My heart was flooded with emotions, the biggest being fear. Would she ever feel accepted? Would she ever have friends? A job? Go on a date? Live independently? It was a tsunami of questions with no answers.
But here I am nine years later and Ellie has blown my mind! At her own pace, she has crushed every milestone. She has turned strangers into friends faster than I ever could. She finds joy in (almost) everything, and the genuine love and concern she expresses for others…well, we should all aspire to emulate it. The world needs to know how incredible people are with Down syndrome. Ellie has inspired me to make sure that happens.
Liz: That’s easy…the moment I first held my daughter for the first time! I didn’t know anything about Down syndrome, but the second I held her and looked into those perfect eyes I knew I wanted the world to see what I saw in her. That she was strong, capable, determined, smart and worthy of all the opportunities life can offer.
How has your experience within your community informed your journey as a mom? What’s something you would want other moms to know?
Abby: Parenting is hard. It is beyond rewarding but it can really test you in many many ways! The truth is, we all have a story. Mine happens to be a bit more visible than some of my neighbors but we all have a story. Mamas, we are stronger than we know. I remind myself of this daily, sometimes hourly! If you had told my 15 year old self that this would be my journey I would have responded with a quick, “There is no way I could do that.” But here I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Liz: Being on this journey has shaped not only who I am as a person but who I am as a mother. I am so grateful for the perspective I have now being able to see the world through the eyes of my daughter! She works 10 times harder for things that come easy to others and does it with determination and joy in her heart. She finds so much joy in the tiniest little things and when you are around her it’s contagious.
I want other moms to know that they can go for their passions and their dreams. I had no idea what I was doing when I started Ruby’s Rainbow over 10 years ago, just an idea and a passion in my heart. I would have never dreamed this idea sparked by my tiny little lady with that magical extra chromosome would have led me to grant almost 500 scholarships totaling over $1.5 million. She truly is the drive behind everything I do!
How has your work as an advocate in this community helped you to feel empowered, and to empower others?
Liz: I feel so empowered by the work we are doing because I see it making a difference in the lives of people rockin’ that extra chromosome every day. I see the pride in their faces when they are awarded a scholarship and know that people are believing in them. I hear from families that say college would not have been possible without financial help from Ruby’s Rainbow. It brings my heart so much joy to be able to help in some small way along their journey toward higher education and independence!
Thank you to Abby and Liz for sharing your stories with us! Aerie fam, what kind of community advocacy are you most passionate about? Let us know in the comments!