WATERVILLE, Ohio — October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. It's a time to celebrate individuals who have Down syndrome and highlight the importance of acceptance.
And it's about acknowledging everyone as equals.
John and Judy Pierce of Waterville are parents of eight children: Chad, 36; Erin, 34; James, 26; Molly, 23; Owen, 21; Carl, 19; Sarah, 16; and Grace, 12.
The two youngest, Sarah and Grace, attend All Saints Catholic School and are joined at the hip.
"I just love my family," Sarah said.
"She's a great big sister. We share a room so we share a lot of things. She helps me when I need help and I help her when she needs help," Grace explained.
While 16-year-old Sarah is in the eighth grade, her mother and father said just because she has Down syndrome doesn't mean she doesn't keep the whole family on their toes. She's full of life and has been that way since day one.
"The special thing with her, I delivered her at home on the bathroom floor," John explained. "My wife went early and I had to deliver her myself."
When Judy and John learned that Sarah had Down syndrome, the couple decided that instead of reading about the disability, they were just going to live their lives.
Together, they agreed not to treat Sarah any differently than her siblings. She has responsibilities, chores and is made to understand that she's just as special and important as everyone else.
The family took the focus of Down Syndrome Awareness Month and applied it to everyday life for their family.
"I think it's important for people to know people with down syndrome are people. Just like you and I and that she has the potential to learn, to read, to write, to love and just do multiple things," Judy Pierce said.
Ahead of National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Sarah's picture was chosen as one of only 500 others to be featured in the annual National Down Syndrome Society Times Square Presentation in September.
Sarah, her parents, Grace and Molly all made the trip to see the picture in person.
"Was it fun to see your picture?" Judy asked Sarah.
"Yes!" Sarah answered.
"Yeah, we were all excited that day and everybody cheered for everyone," Judy added.
Sarah explained that she loves reading, going to school, her ukulele and Jesus.
Her father said he's very proud of the young lady she's growing up to be: fun and funny.
Overall, the Pierce family wants everyone to understand that you can be an advocate for someone with Down syndrome by just being kind.
"I think it's a gift. Down syndrome is a gift. I think that any disability really is. You have to learn from it and make it your strength," Judy explained.
Although there are only a few days left in October, here are some ways to honor Down Syndrome Awareness Month:
Volunteer with one of the numerous Down syndrome advocacy groups. Down Syndrome Association of Greater Toledo can be a place to start locally.
Spread the Word: carry out 31 random acts of kindness — one for each day this month.
For more information on Down syndrome and support in the Toledo area, click here.