"Ultimately if you think about it, Jack's Basket shouldn't have to be. We shouldn't have to remind the world that we should be celebrating these babies with Down syndrome. That these precious babies deserve to be celebrated just like you and I were. I am happy and willing to do this work."
Honestly, I thought this post would have come easier to write, but it's been difficult to articulate an evening, on October 7th, that I will NEVER forget. I have asked myself, did that just happen? One word to describe the night…INCREDIBLE. The evening was filled with so much love, a lot of laughter, and tears. Tears for recognizing the painful parts of our stories, tears for the impact of this organization, tears for the amazing joy our kiddos bring to our lives, and tears for the hope that we get from changing a new family's story. INCREDIBLE. Live music by TreVeld, two rooms full of silent auction basket and items (that brought in $10,000….what?!?), and so many conversations going on. 300 guests mingled and enjoyed the event and I literally felt like I was dreaming.
The welcome and opening was given by the talented emcee, Dale Van de Loo, and Chairman of the Jack's Basket Board of Directors, Julie Hetland. Rebecca Olson, pediatric nurse practitioner and Jack's Basket Board Member, shared her firsthand experience seeing her patients impacted by a Jack's Basket, and her personal love for our children with Down syndrome. She stated she felt better equipped to support her patients by having a resource like Jack’s Basket, providing an opportunity to connect parents and have access to local and national organizations.
A special part of the evening was sharing the video, done by Nate Larson, highlighting Jack's birth story, hearing from families that have received a basket, and capturing our mission. If you haven’t seen it yet, you won’t want to miss it…so click below and sit back and be inspired.
The star of the evening was Miss Kirsta, freshman at Bethel University, who happens to have Down syndrome, and whom I had the pleasure of babysitting when she was a spunky 5-year old. Her job was to introduce me and she did not disappoint. I literally have listened to the audio about 20 times and am rolling every time…I knew she was working on a top 10 list and laughed out loud when I heard her list. I’ve included her script and she can plan on marking her calendar for this event each and every year, because she’s famous.
The 10 Best Things You Should Know About Carissa by Kirsta Graf:
1. She was my babysitter when I was little. She was awesome. Even when I ran away sometimes. But I don't do that anymore, of course.
2. Carissa was my gym teacher when I was little. She loves running. Running makes me want to walk.
3. She is a mom of 3 cute kids, Luke, Jack, and Taylor. and Jack has Down syndrome, so that is fun. She also has a handsome husband.
4. Carissa is go-getter. She started her own organization called Jack's Basket. That's why you're all here tonight.
5. On Jack's one-year birthday they delivered their first basket. It was full with books, gifts and prizes, because that family had a baby with Downs.
6. People started liking what Carissa was doing and she's got baskets going all over the world, even Australia.
7. Did you know Carissa is kind of a celebrity? She's been on the TV and News, and so have I. We are both a little bit famous.
8. She works very hard to tell doctors and nurses that Down syndrome is good news.
9. Carissa is a brave person and so am I because I'm giving this speech.
10. Most of all, Carissa loves babies with Down syndrome and she wants her family and friends to have a wonderful time tonight.
And that we did, Miss Kirsta.
I began my part of the program thanking the planning committee, sponsors, board members, volunteers, our family and friends, and Chris. This could never have happened without each one of these people. We could not have celebrated over 450 babies without these amazing people and I certainly could have never put on an evening without the time and talents of those around us.
Being an educator, it's always good to keep your audience engaged so I got a few guests on their feet. Here is a portion of my words.
If you are an individual that has Down syndrome, would you please stand? I want you to know that your life is an inspiration to me and your life has made a positive impact on the world especially the people around you. You are loved, respected, and we celebrate you tonight. As I say to Jack every night at bedtime, "You are God's masterpiece, created in His image to do great things." Thank you for being here.
Please stand if you received a Jack's Basket.
It was my honor to celebrate with you and know you received a basket with congratulations and hope for the future, we celebrated your amazing child and the gift of him or her and thank you for being a special part of this organization. Each of you has a story and I’m so thankful Jack’s Basket is a part of yours.
Please stand if you are a parent of a child with Down syndrome.
We are ‘the lucky few’. We know what it’s like to celebrate the little things, to not take advantage of the things that the world does, and we know what it’s like experience the amazing joy in the unexpected. I’m confident that your child has help you understand that different is beautiful. We know what it’s like to advocate for our child’s life and be their biggest fan and we also know the pain of having to defend our child’s potential, worth, and impact. We are in this together.
Please stay standing if when you received your child's diagnosis someone told you in an abrupt way, using insensitive, apologetic, bias or assumptive language, filled with pity… maybe you were told that your child would suffer and have a life of challenges, or that you couldn't take your child out in public, be around other children. Maybe you were told you should put your child in an institution, or prenatally pressured to terminate your pregnancy, your story matters and needs to be heard. Look around the room. No one should ever have to defend that their child’s life has worth. NO ONE. This night is for you. You deserved better and your precious babies deserved better. Your story doesn’t have to be someone else’s story and it will be different for a new family. You are the reason I do this work. Thank you for being here tonight.
Tears, tears, and more tears. A chance to acknowledge what is a part of our stories. A chance to see the people that have been affected by the lack of celebration, congratulations, information and resources. Some that have felt the personal bias of the one giving the diagnosis, and the people that have navigated this journey despite the hurt and pain associated when someone defines our child as less than.
And that is why we do this work. And that is why medical outreach is my focus in 2018. That is why I believe if we change the way a family’s story starts, then our community will be changed, our families will be changed, and we won’t have to defend our child’s worth to a world that has gotten Down syndrome so, so wrong. I went back to the birth of Jack's Basket, with the first basket received by a family and how their story encouraging me to do this everywhere. I went back to how one meeting led to another meeting and how we've been able to reach so many hospitals, but how much more work is to be done.
After my talk, I had the pleasure of welcoming to the stage Laci and Sue. They shared their prenatal diagnosis experiences and the impact it had on each of them. I heard pity, pressure to terminate, and no hope. Yet I listened as each of these moms beamed with love and pride for their daughters. How their lives with their child has changed them all for the better. Also, I heard the impact Jack’s Basket had on each of their families, as their babies were both celebrated on the same day a couple years ago, a couple doors down from each other, in the same hospital. Each of these girls, with the blessing of their extra chromosome, have opened their eyes to a whole new world of love, friendship, and openness. They wouldn't change their child, they would have changed how their story started.
And so, we continue to do this work.
My final thank you was to the guests (and to all of you that have supported us).
"I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have you show up, show up for this mission, when it's easier not to get involved or not to care, maybe this mission is not even a part of your story, but you care about others, and you see these amazing babies that deserve better. Thank you for believing in me, and this work. I think it’s time, I think it’s time the world looks at Down syndrome differently. What if every child uniquely created was welcomed and celebrated? What if every family received a message of hope, every family congratulated, and every diagnosis delivered was with the intention to honor the life of this child? Will you help us make that dream a reality and change family’s stories?"
To close the evening, Julie Hetland encouraged the guests to give to a cause that is changing (and saving) lives, to an organization that is growing and needs your help. She asked that our guests help us reach our goal of $100,000…and guess what...we did it! WE DID IT!
Reaching this goal has allowed us to fulfill our 1-year goal and work towards our 3-year strategic plan which includes doubling the number of babies we celebrate, focusing on medical outreach, expanding our reach, and hiring staff. We've celebrated almost 450 babies, reaching almost 200 in the past 12 months. What that means is that we've doubled the amount of babies we've celebrated each year and we anticipate this to happen in the years to come. Along with that, on November 2, I walked through the doors of the Jack's Basket office as the first employee of Jack's Basket! INCREDIBLE. Never did I EVER think this would be something I would have been doing, 4 1/2 short years ago. But this work needs to be done, and I am so happy to do it. THANK YOU for the love and support of our mission. Thank you for sharing the work we are doing and believing in me! To a God that continues to do far more than we could ever hope or imagine, may we continue to be moved.
See you all on September 29th, 2018 at the Renaissance Hotel, The Depot. Tell a friend. You won't want to miss it.
Thank you to the sponsors, Carly May Foundation, Genz-Ryan A/C, Heating, Plumbing, Polaris, Minnesota Birth Center, Dr. Steven & Cindy Calvin, Legacy Wealth Management, Lisa Kelly with Edina Realty, Northern Lights Pediatric & Adolescent Medicin, Stillwater Investment Management, Kline-Johnson & Associates, Savre Wealth Management Group, Malley Design, White Confetti, Nate Larson, Christine's Floral Touch, Kids Abilities, and Promotion Select!