Gigi Cunningham is an aspiring model and actress with Down syndrome, and since we last checked in with her, she’s made huge strides towards achieving her dream of working in the entertainment industry. Her latest accomplishment? Wowing the crowd at the biggest Down syndrome fundraiser in the country.

On Oct. 24 Gigi participated in the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s “Be Beautiful Be Yourself” fashion show at the Colorado Convention Center. The appearance was her biggest modeling gig to date.

Global Down Syndrome Foundation

“I was so excited and to see the people’s faces smiling and cheering me on,” Gigi told The Mighty. “I wasn’t nervous at all, I was ready. I couldn’t wait to get out there. Walking in the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion show was the best time of my life. I loved the makeup, hair, dress and meeting new friends just like me. They were so beautiful.”

Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Gigi’s mother Erica Butler told The Mighty in an email she was in tears when she watched her daughter on the stage. “To see her walk with such confidence and sassiness made my heart melt,” Butler told The Mighty. “To hear the crowd cheering for her was surreal.”

Gigi also rubbed elbows with a number of celebrities at the event, including actor Jamie Foxx and his sister Deonda, who also has Down syndrome. Gigi told The Mighty that Foxx was her favorite celebrity at the event.

Image courtesy of Erica Butler

“Gigi really rocked the runway with model Amanda Booth during the show and we are proud of all the models who participated,” David Charmatz, Senior Vice President, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, said in a statement to The Mighty.

The 7th annual “Be Beautiful Be Yourself” fundraiser benefited the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome and the Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Celebs who walked the runway included actress Jamie Brewer, Minka Kelly, Beau Bridges, John C. McGinley, Beverly Johnson and Terence Howard. GDSF told The Mighty the show raised close to $2 million.

Image courtesy of Erica Butler


The latest cover of French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” features politician Nadine Morano drawn as a child with Down syndrome in the arms of former president Charles de-Gaulle. The accompanying headline reads, “Morano: Secret Down’s syndrome child of de Gaulle.”

One mom won’t stand for this, satire or not. Caroline Boudet, whose daughter Louise has Down syndrome, wrote a passionate article for French newspaper “L’Express” to explain the problem with this cover.

You have hurt all those close to people who have Down’s Syndrome,” Boudet wrote. “Let me tell you something. Intelligence is opening of the spirit and the acceptance of others, stupidity is racism, it’s intolerance, it’s Nadine Morano, but it is not Down’s Syndrome.”

“Intelligence is not a question of genes,” she continued. “You have the right to be humorous, as you see it, but your cover hurts me, and furthermore, it’s not funny.”


Boudet made headlines in June when she wrote a viral Facebook post explaining what she wanted to hear as a parent of a child with Down syndrome. She gave specific examples of insensitive remarks she heard during the first four months of her daughter’s life.

“I know that if one does not experience it, one does not think about it but words do matter,” Boudet said in her post. “They can comfort and they can hurt. So just give it a thought…”

Rick Smith, father and creator of the popular Down syndrome awareness blog “Noah’s Dad,” recently shared his thoughts on Facebook after a child made an unkind remark about his son.

Noah, who will turn 5 this December, was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after he was born. Smith has documented his family’s triumphs and struggles over the years on his blog, and though he revealed he was initially sad to hear what the child said about Noah, he was able to find a positive take on the situation.

On Oct. 6, Smith posted the photo below of his son and wrote on the “Noah’s Dad” Facebook page:

Today when I dropped off Noah at school on my way to work a little kid came up to us and said ‘His face looks silly.’ I don’t fault kids because I know kids don’t mean anything hurtful by it, they are just making an observation. It did, however, make me feel sad for a brief moment as I thought about all of the things people are going about about Noah his entire life. But then I thought about how much of a gift Noah is to our family, and for all the great friends we have that love Noah and don’t see a ‘silly face’ but a little boy full of worth and purpose.


Today when I dropped off Noah at school on my way to work a little kid came up to us and said “His face looks silly.”I…

Posted by on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

In just two days, more than 30,000 people liked Smith’s post, and more than 2,000 shared it on Facebook. Many showed support by sharing their own photos of loved ones with special needs.

Nick Thomas has put on an elaborate Halloween show in his neighborhood in Naperville, Illinois, for nearly two decades. Last year, almost 8,000 people visited his display, and YouTube videos of the show go viral almost annually. But this year a new set of rules established by the Ashbury Homeowners Association board has caused Thomas to cancel the festivities, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Many locals are upset about the decision to restrict Thomas’ Halloween display, as he uses the festivities to help collect donations for Gigi’s Playhouse, a Down syndrome awareness organization. Last year Thomas raised $6,500 for the group.

Thomas’ godson, who has Down syndrome works at Hug and Mugs, a local business established in conjunction with Gigi’s Playhouse.

One of Thomas’ neighbors, Lara Suleiman, whose daughter also has the genetic condition, told The Mighty in an email that her family is upset about the decision to pull the plug on Thomas’ annual celebration.

“Some neighbors issued complaints and now his efforts have been limited, if not thwarted,” Suleiman wrote to The Mighty.

In an October newsletter, the Ashbury Homeowners Association board noted that their new ”Holiday Decorations Rule” limits residents’ decorations to 50 percent of their yard, excluding lights. Thomas’ display generally includes around 2,000 pieces with lights and synchronized music.

“I am disappointed,” Thomas told the Chicago Tribune. “For a lot of people, the house has become a tradition and it is something people look forward to… I do this for the kids; this is not about me. I do this so that people can come and forget about their problems and have a good time.”

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last year, neighbor Jim Jandick said, “[While] I mind the thousands of cars — and I do mean thousands of cars — it may be a minor inconvenience for a month, but then you see all the smiling faces… I see one mother and her special needs son come here every day. Every single day.”

On October 1 Rhode Island-based photographer Laura Kilgus hosted a gallery show to bring her community together for Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and not surprisingly, it was a smash success.

Kilgus told The Mighty in an email that nearly 200 people showed up to the event, and it was a “happy tears” kind of night. She added that the kids’ reactions to their own portraits were priceless, but she was especially moved by 5-year-old Celia, with whom she’s done a number of portrait sessions over the years. Celia is currently undergoing treatment for cancer.

Image courtesy of Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography

“Celia’s smile was so huge when she looked at the photos of her and her sister, Ava,” Kilgus told The Mighty. “She pointed and knew exactly who that was. She also pointed and smiled at the photo below hers of her friends. She said, ‘That’s Ryan! That’s Logan!’ Seeing her light up with that same happiness showcased in that image was something I will never forget. It was really a special moment to witness. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for her.”

Kilgus said Celia was playing with other children in the hall and “even doing some cartwheels, Celia style!”

Image courtesy of Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography

Celia’s mom, Katie Furtado, said the portraits of her daughters is giving them hope for the future.

“It reminds me of a different time, an easier time,” she told The Mighty in an email. “It is a wonderful memory, exactly what a picture is supposed to be, I guess. It was before Celia was diagnosed with cancer, before she lost her hair and before she became too weak to walk. We will get back there, she will walk again and run through the park again, but until that day, we have this beautiful memory and nothing can replace that.”

Check out more of Laura Kilgus’ photographer on her website, 9ten Photography.

For the last four years, Rhode Island-based photographer Laura Kilgus has been passionate about helping the Down syndrome community in any way she can.

After reaching out to Claudia Lowe, executive director at the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island (DSSRI), Kilgus, 29, has offered complimentary photo services to a number of families involved in the organization through her business 9ten Photography.

On Thursday, she’ll host a gallery show of the portraits to kick off Down Syndrome Awareness Month. The event, which will be held at the Warwick Public Library tonight, will highlight some of these incredible portrait sessions. Kilgus told The Mighty in an e-mail that she’s both excited and nervous, but she can’t wait to see the families’ reactions to the show.

Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography

“I want this to be a special night for them to see themselves, and their personalities showcased in this way,” she told The Mighty. “Experiencing the contagious joy of these children and how loved they are by their parents and siblings has been the best part of this whole experience.”

Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography

Kilgus’ 5-year-old nephew Tommy (pictured below), has Down syndrome; he’s the main reason she decided to get more involved in raising awareness for the genetic condition.

Image courtesy of Laura Kilgus

Of course, as the years have gone by, a few other kids have earned a special place in her heart. After shooting portraits of sisters Celia and Ava, Kilgus became quite attached to the little girls, particularly Celia (pictured below), who was also diagnosed with cancer this past spring.

Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography

“The last few months have been very difficult for the family, who have spent a ton of time in and out of Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence,” Kilgus told The Mighty. “I’m so happy to be able to feature Celia in this way at the photo gallery as she has really been a beautiful little person in my life. She’s an amazing little girl. It has been inspiring to meet and spend time with such an incredible, hope-filled family.”

Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography

Lowe, who has a daughter with Down syndrome, chatted about the power of Kilgus’ portrait sessions with local website Warwick Online.

Her photos really capture these kids,” Lowe told the outlet. “They say a picture says 1,000 words, and with these pictures you get a sense of these who these kids really are. The unconditional love that is unique to these families and that’s something these photos capture.”

Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photography
Laura Kilgus/9ten Photograph

Be sure to visit the 9ten Photography website and Facebook page for more amazing images.

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