DSAM 2019 Impact Stories: Josh & Sam

My sister has...

Added Perspective:
When I was 3-4 years old, a preschool friend had asked me if my sister was mentally retarded. My response was, "No, she just takes a little longer to learn stuff." Having a sibling with a disability, watching her grow up and witnessing that she needs some extra help, from everyone (family, friends, educators, etc) provided me with valuable insight into life, in general. Everyone is different in their own right.

Everyone needs help in one way or another.

As I got older, that simple truth provided a lens into how one [should] live among society. Embrace each other’s differences. Cliques, circles, groups, whatever you want to call them... while they may create a support system for like-minded individuals, I never felt like I was part of them, or, for that matter, needed to be part of them - and I think that's a good thing. It's not right to exclude people for their differences, whether intentional or not.


Enhanced Empathy & Emotional Intelligence:
It wasn't until I got into the "real-world" (a.k.a. not living at home) that I realized how important these topics were. I believe they go hand-in-hand with having added perspective. Being the oldest in our family, I witnessed and experienced, first-hand, the effort my parents invested as my sister entered the education system. What was seamless for me was quite the opposite for my sister and my parents. Being part of their struggles, knowingly or unknowingly, taught me a valuable lesson in understanding other’s emotions. A lack of empathy from educational leaders toward my parents was the heart of the problem.

Outside of my parents' challenges raising a child with a disability, growing up with my sister, I can remember a time when there was a chance she may be non-verbal. From all this time spent with her, I picked up on little behavioral cues that, to this day, help me better perceive how she may be feeling on a particular day. No words are needed, despite the fact that she's a chatterbox these days! In the "real-world," these skills are invaluable (and some may argue, more important than IQ) because it's essential to be able to put yourself in someone else's shoes. My whole life I've been trying to put myself in someone else's shoes, so that I could understand the WHY behind behaviors instead of questioning them.

She has inadvertently been taking care of me for 31 years, keeping me grounded and reminding me of what's truly important in life.


While these attributes can be learned, I feel that the 168,000+ hours (20+ years) I've logged with my sister meant these skills were inherent from when she first came home from the hospital. Every time I return home I'm quickly reminded of how loving & compassionate my sister is (from notes left on my bed, hidden in drawers, hidden in my suitcase) and I realize just how much of a blessing it is to have someone like her in my life. She has inadvertently been taking care of me for 31 years, keeping me grounded and reminding me of what's truly important in life.

My sister, and all our friends with Down syndrome, provide a breath of fresh air to a world that desperately needs it!

– Josh


This post is part of a series of PALS community submissions based on the prompt: How has someone with Down syndrome impacted your life? Watch for daily posts throughout October on the PALS Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Blog.

DSAM 2019 Impact Stories: Sonia & Patrick

Patrick is my son, and when he was born, I was so afraid that I would not be equipped to teach him what he would need to live a happy and fulfilled life. I imagined our lives ahead changed forever. A life filled with anxiety over the unsure and the presumed. I grieved for the "perfect" child that I had imagined all my life, and I worried about this "special" child for the rest of his - and our - lives.

Little did I know, Patrick would actually teach us everything we needed to know about being happy and fulfilled in life. Little did I know just how perfect a human being he would be.

Patrick has taught us what true, sincere, and endless love is. He loves without reservation. He accepts people as they are. He is content and happy with the simplest of things that life has to offer. He has a heart, that although has some surgical scars, is made of gold. He celebrates everything. He forgives and forgets entirely. He doesn't hold grudges. He is gentle and kind. He is patient with our impatience. He is willing to try anything and works hard at it when given a chance. He gets frustrated when he doesn't achieve it, but he quickly accepts challenges and is willing to try something else. He is consoling when we are frustrated.He is grateful for everything and anything. He asks for nothing and accepts everything. His wisdom in life far exceeds his IQ.

If only we could all accept and treat each other and ourselves like that. If only we could all learn to live each day "completely", the best that we can, without worrying about tomorrow, and appreciating each moment as it comes. If only we could hold on to the hope that all is possible, if we don't set limits or presumptions on ourselves or others.

I have learned so much more from Patrick than he has from me. Through all his successes and failures, I realize that he is the most perfect human I know.

And yes, he is special. He is extraordinary.

He is who I aspire to be.


This post is part of a series of PALS community submissions based on the prompt: How has someone with Down syndrome impacted your life? Watch for daily posts throughout October on the PALS Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Blog.

New Milestones with The Congratulations Project

As many of you know, on World Down Syndrome Day we launched our new @congratulationsproject account on Instagram. In April, we hit over 450 followers! One of our new followers said “It's so refreshing when I open my social media platforms and see a quote from a camper or a new baby who just received a letter package! Some days social media platforms can be filled with negativity, but the Congratulations Project radiates positive energy to all followers.” Share our new Instagram with your friends today to support the Congratulations Project!

We also celebrated the distribution of 321 donated books this past World Down Syndrome Day. The Congratulations Project Books were distributed to 25 states along with several in Canada. Check out the map below to see how far the books have spread across the country. We have already received some pictures of the books being used at OBGYNS, genetic counselors, and DS association offices across the country. We are still accepting recommendations for organizations and doctors that would like to use our books as resources for new families. Email congratulations@palsprograms.org if you have a location that you think could benefit from receiving a book.

Locations of all Congratulations Project books

Locations of all Congratulations Project books

Meanwhile our letters continue to reach families around the world. Check out this map representing the hundreds of families in 48 states and 18 countries that have received personalized Congratulations Project letters and packages.

Locations of all Congratulations Project letter recipients

Locations of all Congratulations Project letter recipients

Thank you for your continued support of the PALS Congratulations Project!

It is our goal to share joy, create hope and spread welcome. And we appreciate you joining us on the journey.

Global Congratulations Project impact

Global Congratulations Project impact

Meredith Vieira Joins Us at Camp Night

We are thrilled to share that PALS Board Member, Meredith Vieira, will be joining us at Camp Night on May 11!

Meredith has been part of the PALS family for many years, and was first connected after her son, Gabe, was a counselor at Camp PALS Philadelphia. Meredith has served as a PALS Board Member since 2013 and has been an advocate for the impact PALS has on its volunteers.

Vieira hosted and served as executive producer on her own nationally syndicated daytime talk show, titled The Meredith Vieira Show, which premiered in September 2014 and ran for two seasons.  During that time, Meredith featured the PALS Congratulations Project on her show helping PALS share this message with thousands around the world. She has continued to support our efforts with The Congratulations Project, authoring the Foreword for The Congratulations Project book in 2018.

Outside of PALS, Meredith Vieira is also a 15-time Emmy Award-winning host, executive producer and anchor.  Later this year, she will host the Fox-syndicated game show 25 Words or Less. In 2018, Meredith served as co-host of PBS and BBC’s Royal Wedding Watch and as host of the PBS series The Great American Read.  She served as executive producer on the award-winning documentary TOWER, released in October 2016.

Previously, she received critical acclaim for her hosting of Who Wants to Be a MillionaireThe Today Show, and The View.  As host of Millionaire, Vieira became the longest-standing female game show host in history.  She is also a member of an elite group to have anchored or hosted programs on 5 broadcast networks. Early in her career, Vieira spent more than a decade at CBS News, garnering five Emmy Awards for her work as an editor on the news magazines 60 Minutes and West 57th.  Vieira founded and is CEO of Meredith Vieira Productions, which develops and produces film, television, and theatre. 

A native of Providence, R.I., Vieira received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University in Medford, Mass.  She has three children, Ben, Gabe, and Lily, with her husband, best-selling author and journalist Richard Cohen.

We are honored that Meredith will be joining our celebration on May 11. Purchase your ticket today at palsprograms.org/campnight to be there with us!

Camp Night In Philadelphia!

PALS Programs Board Member Garrett Snider and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney

PALS Programs Board Member Garrett Snider and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney

In 2004, we launched the very first Camp PALS at Cabrini College in Philadelphia. Now, 15 years later as we celebrate 15 summer programs across the country serving over 1500 campers and volunteers, it seems fitting that we bring that celebration to our very first home in Philadelphia.

Camp Night will be an opportunity to commemorate our growth and commit to an even bigger future as we build a world of inclusion and acceptance. We are so honored to have Philadelphia Mayor Jim Keeney join us for the event on May 11. The PALS magic was created in the City of Brotherly love, and we can’t wait to share this joy with the world.

Reserve your spot today at palsprograms.org/campnight.

Camp Night is only 6 weeks away! Have you purchased your ticket yet?

This week we have a special update from our Programming Committee. The Camp Night Programming Committee includes some of our all-star Directors who bring the magic of PALS to life every summer. They’ve been working behind the scenes on building a unique and exclusive experience.

Here’s a few words from the team:

Spring has sprung and the birds are chirping. After a long winter, we’ve finally made it! Which means we’re that much closer to Camp Night. We have SO much in store for you, we can’t wait! From our Olympic athletic course, to PALS fashion show stage, to our traveling casino, and a quick boardwalk trip, you are bound to have a night you’ll never forget. So lace up your sneakers, and and get ready to have some fun! We’ve included a sneak peek of our board below.

Come join us and see the vision come to life. Purchase your tickets today at palsprograms.org/campnight.

See you May 11!

See you May 11!

Tell Your PALS Story!


PALS is making a commemorative video for our 15th anniversary, and we want to include YOUR STORY. Are you a camper, volunteer, or parent? We want to use this video to share the impact that PALS has had on your life. How has being part of the PALS family changed you? Tell us about your life before and after PALS.

If you would like a chance to be featured in our upcoming video, please record a short voice testimonial (less than 1 min) and email to media@palsprograms.org For iphone users, please use the “voice memo app”, for android users click here for instructions. Pro Tip: Keep the phone a few inches from your face and minimize background noise for optimum quality.

All submissions must be received by end of day Friday, March 8. We will release the final video in May - thank you for your help in capturing our impact!

By submitting your recording, you are agreeing to its use by PALS Programs.

Leadership Summit 2019

In January, PALS brought 50+ volunteer leaders together for its 2nd Annual Leadership Summit. The weekend started with our summer camp directors arriving a day early for a full 24 hours of learning and strategizing on ways to make Summer 2019 the best weeks of the year for our campers with Down syndrome and their peers.

On the 2nd night, our volunteer ambassadors and assistant directors arrived and spent the next day training on inclusion, personnel, logistics, fundraising, programming, conflict resolution, and sharing their best ideas with each other.

During our 3rd evening together, we were honored to be the first audience to screen The R-Word film, with an amazing Q&A with the director, Amanda Lukoff, immediately following. This movie provided a great message for our leaders on how words matter.

The last day of Leadership Summit 2019 was all about the future of PALS. We spent the final day planning, learning about our research project, and having candid conversations about diversity and inclusion in all forms.

We closed out the summit with our keynote speaker, Kayla McKeon, who shared her passion for advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities. And we followed her speech with testimonials from our volunteers on why they commit to PALS each year.

"PALS has continually given me opportunity after opportunity to be a better me. This family has taught me everything about the type of person I wish to be and motivates me to advocate for inclusion and be an ally for all differences."

These volunteers spent three full days together because they want to create outstanding and transformative experiences for our campers and volunteers. After the summit was over, 85% of the attendees reported that the weekend left them feeling inspired. We are so grateful for their time, energy, passion, and love of PALS.

#PALSFriendshipFridays Series | Gabrielle and Shayla


Meet Gabrielle and her roommate, Shayla. PALS Richmond 2018 was the start of their budding friendship. Read Gabrielle’s answers to find out how they created an amazing friendship.

What is your favorite thing to do at PALS with your roommate?

Our favorite thing to do was create cool Snapchat pics. [Check out some of their Snapchat pictures below!]

What do you do to keep up with each other in between Camps?

We live far away, so we keep in touch through text and Snapchat.

What advice can you give to new roommates to create amazing friendships like yours?

My best advice is to try to not be homesick because the week goes by fast. 


Check out last week’s #PALSFriendshipFriday: Gretchen and Gia

Do you have an awesome friendship with your PALS roommate? Email your answers to sarah_henry@palsprograms.org to be featured in a future #PALSFriendshipFriday Series.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #PALS365 when you’re posting pictures with your PALS friends outside of camp so we can see your friendships year-round!