What PALS Programs Meant To Me
By Shana Anderson, founder of Reeve’s Tees
We found out very early (13 weeks of pregnancy) that our middle son, Reeve, would be born with Down syndrome. Neither my husband nor I had had any experiences with someone who had Down syndrome, and we did not know what kind of life we could expect for our child.
The medical news was absolutely daunting. The laundry list of potential and expected problems stemming from having an extra 21st chromosome was overwhelming. I grieved for this innocent child whom I wanted so badly to protect.
I remember coming home from the hospital and immediately Googling everything that I could about Down syndrome. Beyond the medical information and the extra chromosome – I wanted to know what his life experience would be.
One of the search engine results showed a video from PALS Programs called the “Congratulations Project.” In this short 6-minute video, campers from Camp PALS (young adults who have Down syndrome) read letters to expectant parents about their lives. Their words had a profound impact on me, and this video spoke to me when I needed to hear these words the most.
One of my greatest fears for my baby was that he would have a life of suffering. I feared that his life would not be one of happiness, but rather of pain. In this video, I repeatedly heard from the PALS campers in their own words that they loved their lives, that they were happy, and that they were so proud of who they were. They absolutely meant every word - I could see it.
One of the campers, Victor, was so animated, charming, and sincere as he read his letter. His words hit me deeply. He said, “I love my life because my mom made me feel special. You should nurture your baby to feel special and be exactly who they want to be.” It was as if he gave me a hug through the screen and reassured me that everything would be okay. His words empowered me so much, and I realized at that moment that my job was not to worry about this baby, but rather to advocate for him, to root for him in every way possible, and to help him grow into whatever it was he wanted to become.
Many times throughout the rest of my pregnancy, I would turn back to Victor’s words for strength, and they brought me so much comfort.
In that short PALS video, another aspect that touched me deeply was the sincere friendships between the camp counselors and the campers. One of my fears for the baby was that others would pity him, be mean to him, or that he would not be included. It was so clear that the relationships were genuine. I could see the sincere respect and shared joy between the campers and their partners. It was not pity, but pride. Victor’s words gave me so much hope for my baby, and PALS Programs gave me much hope for the society in which I would raise him.
Reeve was born in May of 2014. Since he has come into our lives, our hearts have known no greater joy than being his parents.
Shortly after his birth, I used my background in Strategic Marketing to launch Reeve’s Tees, a company whose mission was to “rebrand Down syndrome.” I realized that if people do not know much about Down syndrome, they will anchor to the first pieces of information that they received about the condition. For many expectant parents, this is the medical information – which is often negative and scary.
I wanted to create messages about Down syndrome that captured the fun, the love, the pride, and the numerous positive emotions that we, the families and friends of those who have Down syndrome, feel.
We use humor and love to create positive messages on t-shirts that break the ice. Our “I ❤ homies with extra chromies®” t-shirts are our best-selling items. We hope that the light-heartedness about Down syndrome will help people get past the visible differences an extra chromosome and get to know the unique people who have 46 other chromosomes worth knowing!
All of our t-shirts come packaged with love and care by adults who have Down syndrome or special education students whom we work with through vocational training programs. Our packagers take so much pride in their work, and the beautiful packaging job that they do is actually a way of spreading awareness. People get their packages and see all of the detail and steps involved, and they are so impressed by it. The work that our team does showcases the skill, competence, and ability of those who have intellectual disabilities.
We are so proud to partner with PALS Programs in a joint awareness effort! Our special edition “Friends count more than chromosomes” tees are a perfect blend of both of our missions, and purchases will help support our ability to provide meaningful work for our packagers, while simultaneously raising awareness and funds for PALS Programs. You can order your shirts for a limited time only on this link.
I will always be so personally appreciative of what PALS Programs does. Not only do the camps provide a deeply meaningful experience for the campers and the staff - the messages and friendships formed during these camps are a beacon of light in spreading awareness for our community.
Students in the Northmont H.S. Vocation Training Program