For the First Time, Gap Will Feature Models With Down Syndrome in Campaign

Kayla Kosmalski is on her way to Florida to walk in the clothing company Gap‘s first show that features models with Down syndrome.

close up of kayla
Courtesy of the Princess Kayla Facebook page.

Kayla, 9, has Down syndrome and landed the job with Gap after seeing a posting for the opportunity on the Changing the Face of Beauty Facebook page, an effort to get brands to feature people with disabilities in advertisements. The Gap fashion show will take place on Saturday, August 22, at a Gap store in Miami.

It’s part of the launch of Ellen Degeneres’s new clothing line for kids in collaboration with Gap, GapKids x ED.

kayla modeling white jacket
Courtesy of the Princess Kayla Facebook page.

“I am just ecstatic for this opportunity for Kayla,” her mother Amy Kosmalski told The Mighty while aboard her plane to Miami and awaiting takeoff. “The campaign is just incredible. It’s showing the world that our kids are more alike than different and they deserve the same opportunities as the other kids do. Yes, Kayla has Down syndrome, but she’s smart and funny and sassy like all other kids.”

“And ‘drama!’” Kayla added. Yes, she’s also dramatic, her mother confirmed with a laugh. Kayla’s favorite parts about modeling are waving, blowing kisses and “rocking the stage.”

kayla in heart outfit
Courtesy of the Princess Kayla Facebook page.

Changing the Face of beauty has put 14 girls of all abilities in touch with the Gap campaign, three of whom (including Kayla) have Down syndrome. There is also a girl with a limb difference named Fern and a girl named Charlize who has a chromosome abnormality. They will walk the runway at two times on Saturday.

“We could not be more thrilled to be a part of this,” Katie Driscoll, co-founder of Changing the Face of Beauty, told The Mighty in an email. “The opportunity to participate in a event like this is a huge win for our organization as well as these girls who happen to have disabilities and the girls who do not have a disability. Our message is simple: Kids are kids regardless of their ability, and they look great when given the opportunity to be featured together. This gives us the opportunity to really show the world what is possible when all kids are represented in advertising.”

Check out Kayla’s Facebook page or the Changing the Face of Beauty Facebook page for more information on all the other models taking part in the show. 


9 Adults With Down Syndrome Find Out They've Won Academic Scholarships

A new video is showing the world exactly what it looks like when dreams come true.

Ruby’s Rainbow is a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to adults with Down syndrome who want to pursue post-secondary education. Students ages 18 and over can earn scholarships worth up to $3,000 (one applicant each year is awarded $5,000), and the money can go toward college, community college, vocational training or any other program of the student’s choosing.

It is our goal to create awareness of the capabilities of these amazing individuals and help them achieve their dreams of higher education,” the organization’s website reads.

It can be difficult to describe how much a little extra support can mean for students with special needs, so Ruby’s Rainbow decided to show people. On August 20, the organization released a two-minute video (below) featuring some of its 2015 scholarship recipients in the moment they each learned they’d be receiving a scholarship. Student after student excitedly rips open an envelope and beams into the camera as they announce, “I got the scholarship.”

The students in the video below now have an opportunity to show the world their true potential. But more important, they have a chance to fulfill their own aspirations.

I feel very good,” one of the scholarship recipients says in the video below. “And I am really proud.”

Take a look at the video below.

To learn more about Ruby’s Rainbow or apply for one of the 2016 scholarships, visit the organization’s website.

To the Mom Whose Baby Was Just Diagnosed With Down Syndrome

I know you’re scared.

I was there. I remember sitting in a crowded room, literally shaking when I was on the phone with my doctor as she said the words, “Your test came back positive for Down syndrome.”

I remember her trying to tell me how precious these kids are and how her sister loves being a special education teacher.

I remember trying to walk through a parking garage and realizing I was holding my breath and just trying to hold it together until I got to the privacy of my car.

I remember it taking forever before I got to my husband’s office for me to tell him as I just tried to process and accept it. I was just a shell of a person in these moments. Complete shock. Vacant.

And then my husband told me it was going to be OK. He said we were going to “rock this new normal.” I wanted to believe him, but it was hard.

I’d love to tell you I immediately accepted it and was excited to meet our baby girl and didn’t care about the diagnosis. But I did care — mostly because I just didn’t know. I was naïve and hadn’t been around a lot of people with Down syndrome. I made the mistake of Googling some information. Horrible idea. We went to a high-risk doctor to follow up. Terrible experience. Smart doctors are sometimes really bad with their words and their bedside manner can be excruciating.

Weeks and months went by and I was sad. Why was this God’s plan for our lives? This isn’t what I had pictured. I didn’t plan on this. Ever. But it was our future, and as upset as I was, I still wholeheartedly believed all life was so precious, made by God, with no mistakes. Nothing but his Plan A for our lives.

So we began reaching out and meeting some families in the Down syndrome community and talking to friends. I began to thaw. I met a super cool mommy with a 1-year-old baby girl with Down syndrome. I just stared at her and saw how beautiful she was and how happy her mommy was. I thawed a lot more.

I began to be quiet and listen to God. I believe his comfort was always there and his promises were always true and I began to feel better. Still a little fearful of how different our new normal would be, but better.

And what you’re feeling right now is OK. It’s normal. Take some time to understand the fact that your normal is going to be a little different.

But oh my, when she got here, all those feelings and heartache I just told you about were — poof — gone completely.

I was enamored with my precious, perfect baby girl. I was so proud of her, so happy to be her mother and so grateful to God. I believe he chose us to be her family. I believe his plan is perfect, and he gives really great gifts — better than we deserve, even if they didn’t seem like gifts we would pick at the beginning. As I read over this post now and remember how I felt at the beginning, I feel completely ridiculous. But it’s where I was, and it’s part of our journey.

Where you are right now may seem scary. It’s different than what you expected. Being scared doesn’t make you a bad person, but I promise — oh, how I promise — that this new normal is beautiful. Every single thing is now celebrated, the love is abundant and the community is amazing.

So please know how you feel right now is fleeting. It’s new, it’s a surprise, but it’s going to be amazing.

Jamie Bradford the mighty.2-002

Follow her journey on Normal as We Know It.

Watch Kenny Chesney’s Response to a Request From a Fan With Down Syndrome

Country music superstar Kenny Chesney performed in front of a record-breaking crowd of more than 58,000 fans in East Rutherford, New Jersey on August 15, according to the country music site The Boot. But the show was especially memorable for one fan in particular.

During the show Chesney leaned down mid-song to high-five a woman with Down syndrome. The girl then asked if she could come on stage and say something into the microphone, so Chesney pulled her up onstage with him.

Kenny Chesney is my one true love,” the woman tells the audience in the video below. “I want to kiss him right now on the lips.”

Then, Chesney leaned in and gave the fan the moment of her dreams — a kiss on the lips.

Watch the magical moment in the video below.

As the crowd went wild in response to the kiss, the woman explained to the audience that Chesney’s music had gotten her through tough times as a teenager and that it was her grandfather’s dream to see her perform onstage with the musician. Chesney embraced the woman and held her next to him as he launched into a performance of the song, “Wild Child.”

That young woman had so much heart, so much spirit,” Chesney said following the encounter, according to The Boot. “She was just fearless and true and wanted to tell people what was on her mind. Talk about inspiring all of us about how to live our lives.”

Watch Chesney and his surprise guest perform “Wild Child” in the video below.

How This Fairytale Is Teaching Kids About Down Syndrome

This children’s fairytale teaches children about Down syndrome and demonstrates how great it is to live in a world where everyone looks and acts differently from one another.

Prince cover-hi-res

Written by Silke Schnee and illustrated by Heike Sistig, “The Prince Who Was Just Himself” tells the story of a king and queen who are anticipating the arrival of their third child. But when Prince Noah is born with Down syndrome, the royal couple are unsure of what to make of him.

He looks a little different,” the king says as he lays eyes on his child for the first time.

“He’s not like the others,” the queen agrees.

Though Noah doesn’t have the same abilities as his brothers, his parents soon realize how wonderful he is in his own way. And when the new prince defeats the kingdom’s worst enemy with a simple act of kindness, everyone else sees it, too.

Prince Noah is based on Schnee’s son, also named Noah, who was born with Down syndrome. At first, Schnee and her husband were shocked and saddened by Noah’s diagnosis. But those feelings vanished when they saw how much joy Noah would bring to the family.

“The catalyst for this book was witnessing the effect [our son] had on many people, despite being categorized as disabled,” Schnee, who lives in Cologne, Germany with her family, wrote in her biography at the end of the book. “In fact, our little prince brings much love, joy and sunshine not only to us, but to all around him.”

Take a look at some of the illustrations from the fairy tale below.

family scarface tree

“The Prince Who Was Just Himself” is currently available on Amazon.

Photos courtesy of Plough Publishing.

How My Son With Down Syndrome Fixed a Hotel Problem I Couldn't

Some people might not consider a person with Down syndrome to be a good leader. But what exactly is a leader, anyway? I believe a leader is a thinker. A problem solver. A decision maker. Someone who doesn’t wait around for others to make things happen. Things happen because the leader makes them happen. Not by railroading others, or demanding or coercing. But by facing the giants.

By giants, I mean those things that seem insurmountable. What may seem impossible to some seems a matter of course to a leader. When it comes down to it, a leader sees the need, signs up for the challenge and then gathers the team to get it done. 

A leader sees the abilities in others, calls them to the task and then gets out of the way and allows them to do it. A leader inspires others — not with their elevated sense of self, but by their sense of seeing what’s possible and elevating others. A leader is fearless.

Sometimes I forget what a leader my son, Charley, is. But then I saw him in action first-hand this morning. 

Here’s what happened…

son at hotel

We’d been staying at a hotel in Louisville for three days while visiting our families. It came time to leave and I told Charley I would go sign out while he finished packing. When we arrived, the luggage cart was available. But when we went to check out, all the carts were in use.

“Great,” he said, slapping his palms to his thighs. “No carts.” (Can’t say I blamed him. I sure wasn’t carrying all our junk to the car.)

“Sorry, honey,” I said. “We’ll just have to wait ’til someone brings one back. Then we can grab it.” With that, I sat down on one of the chairs and waited. And waited, while he shifted from foot to foot.

Then he looked at me like, see ya, and headed back to the room. I figured he was going to wait there. I figured wrong. 

About three minutes later, here came Charley into the lobby carrying my hanging clothes, three bags, his swimming fins, goggles and my makeup case. Following close behind him was a tall, husky man carrying my suitcase and Charley’s backpack. Behind him was another man. He was carrying our cube of Coke Zeros, my journal, some books and a box of snacks we just had to have for our trip.

“This way,” Charley said, pointing. The men followed. Forgive me, but my mouth dropped open.  

Here was my son, maybe all of 5 feet, directing these two husky 6 feet or so men, and they headed outside. “That’s my Mom,” he said to the men, as they went by. “These are my friends, Mom.”  

The men nodded at me and said, “Hiya Mom, nice to meet you.” 

There was only one thing left to do: follow them to the car and grovel, followed by some serious apologizing.

“Did he con you into carrying our luggage?” I asked. 

“Not exactly,” one man said. “He said he needed help, so we helped.” (I could just envision Charley in the hallway of the hotel, flagging down people on their way to the lobby, saying, “Need help here” and pointing to the room where the mountain of luggage waited.) 

“Thanks guys,” Charley said, slapping them a high-five as the three of them headed back into the hotel.  

I pulled the car around to the entrance of the hotel, thinking it would be easier for Charley and me to get the rest of our stuff. 

Um, did I say Charley and me?  

Scratch that. Because the next thing I know, Charley’s emerging from the hotel with a woman following close behind, and she happened to be carrying what was left of the case of bottled waters we had brought with us. Into the back of the van it went.  

He turned and grinned at me. “See?”

Again, my chin nearly hit the ground. 

“Charley, you just can’t go asking people to do things like this,” I scolded. 

“Relax Mom, I got this.” 

He sure did. Before I knew it, the car was completely loaded, and there wasn’t a luggage cart in sight.

Now, you may think this was rude. You may think it invasive. You might even consider it demanding and inappropriate. And I suppose by most standards, it was. But I couldn’t help smiling at what a problem-solver my supposedly “challenged” son is. There I was, resigned to sit and wait until a luggage cart showed up, while he was busy taking care of the challenge at hand. Facing the giants.

A few minutes later we met my sister for breakfast. When we went to leave, Charley sat down in the waiting area while we paid the bill. He wasn’t sitting there very long when a man approached the door pushing a stroller with a small child. I saw the man and the waiting area filled with people. I also saw the only person who jumped up and raced to hold the door open. It was Charley.  

That was a moment of clarity for me. It wasn’t that Charley was trying to con those travelers at the hotel into doing work for him. He simply needed help. He had a task at hand that seemed too much for one person, and he set about gathering his team. To him, that seemed logical. And, bless him, he didn’t act like me. Not once did he issue an apology for inconveniencing them. To him, people should help people. And that’s just the way it is. 

When I think of all the leadership positions I’ve had over the years, it makes sense. Every good leader understands team work. They also understand the concept of paying it forward. (Apparently, so does Charley.) You help me, and I’ll either help you, or I’ll help someone else when the situation presents itself.  

I’m embarrassed at how often I underestimate him. How little I still know about that extra chromosome called Down syndrome. But I’m equally impressed at the things he teaches me. 

Does this mean I’ll recruit travelers to help me with my luggage when he isn’t around? Probably not. Does it mean I won’t fuss at him when he sets out recruiting his team, especially when it’s a team he’s never even met? Probably not. 

What it does mean is that I can see him in a new light — that of a person who faces his giants, whether they are people or challenges.

It also means that when he’s faced with those challenges, he’s a thinker. He finds a way.

As a mother of an adult with special needs, my whole life has been about facing the giants: 

  • The massive preconceived notions of that extra chromosome and all the challenges that come with it.
  • The extensive health issues that often accompany Down syndrome.
  • The wide schisms that so often cause those roadblocks in his social development.

Yes, life has its hurdles. But sometimes it takes an extra chromosome to show us all how to take a leap. 

When I think about it, the world may crumble around us, but the one left standing will be the one who doesn’t cower just because the situation seems bigger than he is. 

You’ll know him when you see him. Just follow the leader.

Follow this journey on Life With Charley.

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