YEP Grant Recipient: Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis Supports Families

The mission of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis is to serve, support and celebrate the lives of all individuals with Down syndrome and their families, through every stage of life. The pillar of the organization is family support from the moment that a family receives notice that their unborn child may have Down syndrome through the end of the loved one’s life – and even beyond.

In only 47 years since a small group of mothers of children with Down syndrome met to share ideas and encourage each other, DSAGSL now serves over 2,000 people in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois. Their mission has grown to create a better community for individuals with disabilities, specifically Down syndrome. They have seen many positive changes in those years. No longer are children hidden away; now they are integrated into classrooms and many hold jobs in the marketplace. In the words of Erin Suelmann, Executive Director of DSAGSL, “The individuals we work with are out in our communities, making our world a better place. They demonstrate that we’re all different in our own ways, but still successful.”

The recent grant from YouthBridge’s YEP STL! program will be put to good use. It is being applied to the DSAGSL Small Steps Therapy Program for children ages 3 – 8 years old. As well as bringing families together to connect, share resources and find hope and comfort in each other, Small Steps provides true skill-building for the children. Trained Music Therapists lead children in discovering the joy of singing (both with sound and with sign language), dancing, clapping hands, shaking musical instruments, etc. Music therapy is extremely powerful, especially for children with limited verbal skills. In addition to Music Therapists, the organization partners with Special Olympics to allow children the opportunity to handle equipment, run, kick or throw balls and other activities. These activities are not just fun play — they are designed to build and improve gross motor skills. Despite the significant benefits of these therapies, they are typically not covered by insurance. Thus, the monthly programs are extremely valuable to the families of participants.

YEP STL! (Youth Engaged in Philanthropy) is a program led by high school students striving to make a substantial impact on the Greater St. Louis area by evaluating and providing grants to youth-focused nonprofit organizations. When discussing the YEP grant, Ms. Suelmann expressed how refreshing it was to talk with young people who want to be involved in community services and philanthropy and take it seriously. She indicated it was an honor to meet the YEP students. In her words, “The students were professional, interested and did a great job in learning about our organization. It was very inspiring and gave me hope for the future of the non-profit world. These students are learning how the process works; they are the future of philanthropy!”

Images of the smiling faces of the wonderful, beautiful people DSAGSL works with, along with understanding how far they’ve come, belies the fact that it’s still hard. There is still work to be done and resources are still needed. That’s why grants like those from YEP STL! are so appreciated.