5 Questions with Gail Marino, founder of the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization

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 Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you founded the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization.

I was born in Jacksonville, Florida, but lived most of my early life in Tennessee. I graduated from Texas Christian University with a BFA Degree and went directly to New York City to get a job. I met my husband in New York City. We married and had three beautiful children all born in New York State. My daughter Kimberly, who is the middle child, was born with Down syndrome. Kimberly was born in 1975 and at that time, it was very common for doctors to tell mothers that they should not bring their child home, but to put them in an institution. That was the moment when I knew I had to educate myself and find out how to help my daughter, because my husband and I would never ever consider not taking Kimberly home with us!

That was also the moment when I knew that I never wanted to segregate Kimberly in any way from others so she would have a chance to live a normal life like any other child. When we moved to Florida from New York in 1979, people who had Down syndrome were almost always segregated in “special classes”. Being new in the area, I knew I needed to form a group with other parents who had children with Down syndrome to promote change through advocacy, information, and especially support for all people who have Down syndrome in our community!

I had coffee with two mothers of children who had Down syndrome and they agreed that there definitely was a need for a support group which was the beginning of the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization. Both of the mothers eventually moved out of Florida, but the group was formed in 1980 and the rest is history!

 World Down Syndrome Day took place on March 21, did Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization do anything special?

I love that we now celebrate World Down Syndrome Day each year on March 21st! Last year and this year for World Down Syndrome Day, GCDSO had and will have an exhibit open house and sale of the artwork of our adult art class students. Two years ago we had a “tattoo outing” and people got tattoos. A few years ago we had a 5K race and invited everyone to run to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day. These activities are always fun, but most of all it is wonderful to raise awareness about Down syndrome everywhere!

 What kind of services does the old Coast Down Syndrome Organization offer?

The Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization has many services for children and adults who have Down Syndrome as well as their families.

Information and support for new parents comes from Best Start.

Teaching parents to become an educator for their children helps in reading, math and life skills which comes from The Learning Program.

The Exceptional Educator Program teaches your educators and district staff success with working with children who have Down syndrome.

Educational Advocacy provides our families with free advocates for IEP’s and classroom placements.

We have Adult Enrichment programs in theater, art, fitness, book club and a self-advocates group.

Information, social activities, and community awareness are things we provide.

Please check out our many programs at www.goldcoastdownsyndrome.org

 What is a common misconception people have about Down Syndrome and people with Down Syndrome?

So many people feel sorry for those who have Down syndrome because they think they don’t have potential and the ability to live a fulfilling life because of differing physical and mental abilities. How wrong they are! We all have disabilities in life! People who have Down syndrome are just like everybody else in that they have talents and personalities that make them unique and amazing individuals! Also, people who have Down syndrome are living longer with more and more youngsters each year going into college programs, and learning to live independently. Not all people who have Down syndrome are happy, especially if they have been mistreated in life, but I have found that most people who have Down syndrome see the glass half full, not half empty! My daughter appreciates life and also sees the beauty in others that sometimes I don’t see. She is truly a gift! I can’t even imagine my life without her!

 What has been the most rewarding part of creating the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization?

I think the most rewarding part of creating the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization has been to continuously provide information and support, maximizing opportunities to help all people who have Down syndrome and their families in our community now for 40 years. I feel that our organization remains relevant by updating and changing with the times the needed programs, thereby maximizing opportunities for those who have Down syndrome to reach their potential! I am so proud of all the members, volunteers, Board of Directors and Executive Director who work tirelessly to be fiscally responsible and energetically support all of our events and programs.