DSAW Leaders

Meet a DSAW Leader: Jennifer

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Hello! My name is Jennifer Kosak and I have recently joined the DSAW-Green Bay Advisory Board. My husband, Matt and I are blessed with two amazing daughters, Isabelle (8) and Olivia (2).  We live in Suamico and have been married almost 14 years. I work as a Project Manager at Zymo Interactive. I love my job because I get to help create innovative and impactful solutions every day. When I'm not working you can find me spending time with my family and friends, traveling, and organizing anything and everything. I love to plan and organize! 

We received Olivia’s diagnosis after birth and it was not a great experience. The neonatologist who came in to deliver the news was anything but sensitive and basically told us we’d be lucky if Olivia got a job in fast food one day. Those first few days began as scary and overwhelming, along with the roller coaster of emotions and unanswered questions. It felt as though I was living someone else’s life and didn’t know how I was going to regain a sense of normalcy. We spent 28 days in the NICU with Olivia where we were connected with some remarkable doctors, nurses and members of the DSAW-Green Bay chapter who helped me to realize that Olivia was going to be whoever she wanted to be. One of the doctors told me Olivia was going to change the world and boy was he right. Fast forward 2 years and she has already changed mine. 

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Over the past 2 years, I’ve finally started to see how much this diagnosis has blessed us as a family. Olivia has taught me to live in the moment, celebrate what I once overlooked and enjoy the journey.  Yes, this journey can sometimes still feel hard but it’s also indescribably beautiful. Parenting in general is overwhelming and scary but it’s also so exciting. It’s exciting to see how far Olivia has come in these last few years and even more exciting to think about where she’ll go in the future. She’s already gone from learning how to roll over, crawling, walking and now onto running. Yes, the progress can sometimes feel painfully slow but it’s in those moments that I’m reminded of the strength and determination that will allow her to change the world. 

I’m truly grateful that Olivia connected me to a whole community that I didn’t even know existed. The love, supportive embrace, and acceptance that I’ve felt from this community is like no other. It’s been such a joy to stand with other parents and champion our kids together. It’s for that reason that I wanted to get involved. I want to provide that same love, support and acceptance to others in our community. I want the opportunity to tell new parents who are receiving their new diagnosis, “Congratulations” and that your child will do amazing things and change the lives of so many. I want to be an advocate for inclusion and acceptance for Olivia and others with Down syndrome. I feel blessed to have this opportunity and look forward to the future! 

Meet a DSAW Leader: Morgan

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Hello DSAW friends and family, my name is Morgan Brzank and I am a board member for DSAW-COTH-La Crosse. I currently reside in La Crosse near UW-La Crosse but I am originally from New Berlin, WI (near Milwaukee). I am about to go into my senior year of college, studying with a major in Business Management and a minor in Healthcare Analytics with an emphasis in Human Resources (a mouthful, I know!).

I always say my path with DSAW is not only unique but one of my biggest blessings, and proves you never know what will open up doors and opportunities in your life. In high school, I was on my school’s dance team and one of our coaches asked me to help coach our communities Special Needs and Abilities Poms (SNAP) team. I fell in love with coaching these girls immediately and I also met my friend, Alexis Malloy while coaching that team. Here, her family asked me to become a supporter for Alexis where I got to help Alexis with things like work, respite, healthy habits, tutoring and so on. This experience also opened up the opportunity to learn about DSAW and I began volunteering there throughout high school (I still work for her remotely). Through Alexis, I met Dawn Nuoffer and the fabulous Abby.

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Through all these opening doors, I made my way to becoming a board member for the La Crosse chapter when moving to La Crosse for college. I am now the Secretary for our board and I love helping out with the volunteers in our area, having a part in the DSAW walk, and getting involved with the Self-Advocates when I can. Last summer, I had the blessing of working at DSAW Headquarters as an intern – best summer ever! I even work for DSAW Family Services from time to time. DSAW and all the individuals with Down syndrome have changed my life and I am so honored to continue my work in this community. As I finish up my last year in college and look forward to new directions, I am excited to continue being a DSAW member for La Crosse and being involved in DSAW overall!

Meet a DSAW Leader: Intern Edition

Meet DSAW’s hard working Summer 2019 Interns! We couldn’t do the work we do without these amazing and passionate individuals. Read below to learn more about Ava, Brett, Lindsey, Mariah, and Michelle!

Ava Landmeyer, Social Work/Programming Intern:

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My name is Ava Landmeyer and I am so excited to be interning with DSAW this summer! About 8 months ago, I began volunteering at DSAW’s Tween Nights after hearing about DSAW through the Breathe Respite Program a couple years back. I’ve always felt a pull towards working with individuals with special needs, and I’ve been lucky enough to learn just how much I love this type of work through a few different opportunities, such as working as an assistant Irish dance teacher, Best Buddies club, Breathe Respite, and now DSAW! It’s been such an amazing experience getting to know everyone at DSAW and getting more involved in some of their amazing programs. Besides working with DSAW and similar organizations, I also spend my time Irish dancing and working as a Certified Nursing Assistant.  I am so looking forward to the opportunity to work with DSAW and all of its fantastic members.

Brett Braza, Marketing & Communications Intern:

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Hello! My name is Brett Braza and I am the Marketing & Communications Intern here at DSAW. Although I have only been working here for a year, I can say with confidence that this incredible organization has changed my life. I have been lucky enough to meet so many inspiring self-advocates, many of whom I would call my heroes. These self-advocates have proven that just because an individual has a disability does not mean they are limited in life—they are capable to do anything! I plan on bringing that perspective to school and throughout the rest of my life. Speaking of school, I just finished my freshman year at the University of Minnesota! I absolutely love the Twin Cities area and will be excited to be back up there again in August. I am studying Marketing and Non-Profit Management through the Carlson School of Management, two fields of study greatly inspired by my work with DSAW!  In my free time, I enjoy running, traveling Up North, and watching movies, specifically Pixar and Marvel movies! I am trying to improve my cooking skills this summer as I will be living in an apartment next year in the Twin Cities. But, that is a work in progress! I am so excited to be at DSAW for the summer!

Lindsey Clark, Social Work/Programming Intern:

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Hi! My name is Lindsey Clark and I am a Social Work/Programming intern at DSAW in West Allis. I am currently a senior at Marquette University studying Social Welfare and Justice and Gender and Sexuality Studies. I am originally from Detroit but have loved living in Milwaukee these past three years. After I graduate, I plan on pursuing my Masters in Social Work and hope to work to support individuals and impact my community. I wanted to be involved with DSAW, not only to gain experience working with the programming of a non-profit, but also to join the strong community that advocates for the dignity of all individuals. Although I am only in my first month of interning here, I have quickly grown to love the people and mission of DSAW. In my time as a DSAW intern, I can't wait to learn, grow and become a part of this amazing community. 

Mariah Ganyo, Social Work/Programming Intern:

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Hello! My name is Mariah Ganyo and I am apart of the programs internship at DSAW for the summer. I just graduated this spring from The University of Wisconsin- Stout with a bachelors of science degree in Human Development and Family Studies and a concentration in social work. I grew up in a suburb outside of the twin cities in MN and my next door neighbor who is one of my best friends is a person with Down syndrome. Him and many of his friends helped me find my passion for helping others. In my free time, i enjoy being outside, reading a book, out shopping with friends and family, or inside trying to cook a delicious recipe off of Pinterest. I am so happy to be apart of DSAW and can’t wait to get to know all of you!

Michelle Dieckelman, Nonprofit Management & Event Planning Intern:

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Hi! My name is Michelle Dieckelman and I am the Nonprofit Management and Event Planning Intern for DSAW. I am a junior at UW-Madison, double majoring in communicative science & disorders and communication science & rhetorical studies. My career aspiration is to be a speech pathologist in the NICU. I am from a family of 5 – my parents, a brother, and a sister. At UW – Madison, I am involved with the Special Olympics of Wisconsin, Moment of Magic, and Badgers Give Back. All of these experiences have brought me down the path of working at DSAW. I participate in flag football and volleyball with the Special Olympics of Wisconsin and it has brought me so much joy and great friendships. With my Moment of Magic organization, I get to dress up as a female superhero and help children to feel “brave, strong, and fearless.” DSAW is a great organization and I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to work as an intern for the summer. I can already see the impact this organization has on the community and I cannot wait to be part of this amazing organization and team.

Meet a DSAW Leader: Garrett

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Hello! My name is Garrett Lancelle and I am a DSAW-Central Wisconsin Board Member. I am also a proud husband and father to three wonderful children (JJ (1), Isabelle (4), and Gavin (6). I am also a sibling to Max, Katie, and Joe and son to Paul and Nancy. I have worked as a special education teacher for the last 9 years throughout Central Wisconsin (Edgar, D.C. Everest, and Wausau School District). My family and I reside in Weston, Wisconsin. 

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My journey to DSAW stemmed from being a part of a family who lived by the motto of "putting the FUN in DYSFUNCTIONAL". More than that I lived in a family of love.

My siblings, Max and Katie, have Down Syndrome. My parents were amazing advocates. My brother Joe and I can attest that we are the people we are today due to being the siblings of Max and Katie. Max and Katie helped us to understand how to conquer fears, fight through adversity, and fight through the most difficult of task that life presents.   

My experiences as a sibling, son, and special educator have led me to being a part of DSAW. I have seen the impact our community has on families and look forward to our growth in the future! 

Meet a DSAW Leader: Roxy

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My name is Roxy Pryes and I am one of the board members for DSAW-Green Bay.  My husband, Craig and I live in Casco with our two children, Ollie and Tori. I attended my first DSAW Awareness Walk back in 2012 when Ollie was just under 3 months old. I was in awe of all of the wonderful people I met that day.  Our next DSAW sponsored event was a monthly play date where the other moms went crazy over Ollie. (Now that Ollie is a little older I get to be one of the moms going crazy over the new babies).

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Over the course of the next few years my family attended play dates, parents nights out, and of course more walks.  I knew from early on that I wanted to volunteer with DSAW but I was not able to right away due to balancing work and raising two young children.  In 2017 I was able to help the rest of our newly forming board plan the Awareness Walk.  Since then I have loved the brainstorming, planning, sleepless nights, and friendship that has come along with being part of the DSAW-Green Bay Board.  In my free time (what is that?) I enjoy spending time with my family, camping in the summer, and reading (can't remember the last time this didn't involve a book with more pictures than words).  I also enjoy my second job (first one is being mom to Ollie and Tori) working at a local clinic as a patient service representative.  I absolutely love planning new events for DSAW Green Bay.

Meet a DSAW Leader: Ryan

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My name is Ryan Mattson.  I am a fresh member of the DSAW Central Wisconsin Board and this is my AMA… oop, sorry wrong website, this is my Meet a DSAW Leader.  My wife and I live in the Wausau area along with my step daughter Halena.  On July 2, 2016 my wife and I had our first baby together, her name is Emma.  I knew immediately that she had Down syndrome and upon questioning the nurse and Doctor, we were met with a refusal to acknowledge.  Like many, we had some difficult times over the weeks to follow between being passed around to Pediatricians, trying to learning about this new world we’d stumbled into, waiting for official test results (they said I’m sorry), and wondering if Emma had any health issues.  That said, Emma came away clear of the initial major health issues and is a joy and a wonder.

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The DSAW Central WI Chapter was just being formed when Emma came along and we’re grateful to have been able to meet so many others with similar experiences in the local area.  My wife and I have both recently transitioned from full-time corporate world jobs to each running our own businesses.  This has allotted us some extra personal time to spend with the kids, attend events, and now also put some time into this chapter of DSAW.

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 In my personal life, I am constantly on the go and my list of projects seems to grow faster than it gets shorter.  I like physical labor and I dabble in all trade skills, sometimes more out of necessity than enjoyment.  When I have some spare time I like to read, play video games, collect memorable toys from my youth, and fiddle with photography.  As a family we spend a lot of time outside, often bicycling/walking/running, eating ice cream (I’m working on obtaining my Briq’s 100lb club membership), and of course Emma also keeps us on the go.

Meet a DSAW Leader: Lauren

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Hello, my name is Lauren Dewey and I am the new Chapter Relations and Marketing Coordinator at the DSAW State Headquarters! I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2015 with a BA in Communication and shortly after moved to the Milwaukee area. The last two years I was the merchandising assistant of fitness apparel for an e-commerce company. While I enjoyed the merchandising field, I didn’t feel it’s what I was meant to do. That’s what brought me to the nonprofit sector! I started the graduate program in Nonprofit Management and Leadership through the Helen Bader Institute at UW-Milwaukee this past fall. I strived to really connect with people, be fulfilled, and have an impact on society. Hence how I ended up at DSAW! In the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many amazing, driven people all working towards the same goals. It’s truly inspiring and has sparked so much passion in me. 

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When I’m not buried in textbooks, I’m usually enjoying my time with my three dogs Alfie, Bama, and Cannoli, whether it be hiking or snuggling on the couch. Otherwise you can find me at a country music concert or exploring new food spots in Milwaukee with my fiancé, Kurtis. I also currently serve on the board of Friends of MADACC, the nonprofit that serves Milwaukee’s local animal control and adoption facility, MADACC. I’ve continued to pursue my passion of merchandising to raise awareness and funds for our animals by maintaining and growing the inventory of FOM merchandise and apparel.  

I am so thankful DSAW came into my life. Working with people with Down syndrome and the hard working, dedicated employees and board members has truly brought joy and fulfillment into my life. DSAW’s mission has resonated with me and inspires me every single day. That being said, if you’re interested in joining an existing chapter or creating a new chapter in your community, please reach out to me at lauren@dsaw.org

 

Meet a DSAW Leader: Scott

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On April 6th of 2018, my wife and I received the hardest news that we had ever received as a couple; our unborn child was diagnosed with Down syndrome.  We were on vacation with our 2 year old visiting relatives in Texas when we received the call and we were in total disbelief. WOW, what a blow! 

Hello, my name is Scott Erickson and I have recently joined the DSAW Chippewa Valley Advisory Board.  My amazing wife Becky and I are blessed with two beautiful and healthy girls, Korina (2+) and Gwyn (4 mos).  We enjoy the simple things in life like being outdoors, visiting with friends and family, and spending time at the cabin.  I am a commercial relationship manager (lender) at Security Financial Bank and my wife is a supply technician at Marshfield Clinic/Hospital, both in Eau Claire.

Our story is much like what you have experienced personally or know of someone who did: the stages of unanswered questions, the emotional highs and lows, the uncertainty, the self-pity, (regrettably) the regret, and a feeling like you are on an island by yourself…BUT in the end, you experience a happiness that cannot fully be explained!

My wife brought the DSAW-Chippewa Valley Walk to my attention shortly after Gwyn was born.  I’m not a “lets join a group” kind of person but felt it might be good for me see what it is all about.  Simply put, it was fantastic!  The raffles, food, entertainment were all good, but the camaraderie and acceptance was over the top.  We met new friends, found some old ones, and it really helped me realize that we are not on an island at all!  I really want to help pass the DSAW “welcome” along to all that have been given this special blessing.

 

Meet a DSAW Leader: Marita

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My name is Marita Stannis and I am the President of the Greater Milwaukee Chapter’s Advisory Board.  I have been in this role since the chapter was created in 2013, and prior to that I was the Secretary on the State Board for about 3 years.

I am the Environmental, Health and Safety Manager at Caterpillar.  I love my job because I work with employees to ensure their safety on the job.  My husband Kevin and I have been married for 12 years.  He works for a software company and travels internationally quite often.  We have 2 children- Madelyn (Maddy) who is almost 10 and Oliver who is 3.

I received Maddy’s Down syndrome diagnosis prenatally, and it wasn’t a good experience for us.  We were told all the bad things that can come with Down syndrome but none of the good.  After she was born we joined DSAW and what a life changer that was!  The resources and knowledge that they have has been amazing! I wanted to be involved in helping ensure other families didn’t have the same experience we did, so I joined the Board.

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I am so blessed to have DSAW in my life. I have made some of my best friends here.  Sharing our triumphs with each other and guiding one another through challenges makes our bond so strong! 

When there’s spare time you will find me in the kitchen cooking!  I have loved to cook most of my life and have great mentors, something I am hoping to pass down to my kids!  I also enjoy spending time with family and friends and reading. 

Meet a DSAW Leader: Amy

My name is Amy Thomas. I am the newest edition to the DSAW state office and I am incredibly excited for this opportunity. I have the pleasure of teaching multiple classes every month for a wide variety of age groups and topics, which allow me to share my creative, authentic self.

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I started my career on accident while attending the University of Iowa, where I studied Socio-Cultural Anthropology. I was volunteering at a coffee shop on campus that was run by individuals with disabilities. It was my job to offer support as needed. From there I went on to work for the Goodwill of the Heartland as a job coach and came to the realization I had found my place in the world. I am a bit of a dreamer and believe you should always enjoy what you do for a living, while giving back if you can.  I have been working with individuals with disabilities for over 18 years now- which is absolutely mind blowing. I cant believe how quickly time has flown by. While I have thoroughly enjoyed all of my experiences over the course of the last 18 years, I have to say one of my proudest thus far was the creation of Team Awesome. Team Awesome is a technical theater program for students with disabilities at Shorewood High School. The members work alongside the rest of the high school crew, at their own pace, to build sets for the high school productions, as well as running all technical aspects of the show. It is the first of its kind in the nation and although I have since left the program, it is still running strong.

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I am the proud mother of three amazing children and one beautiful grandbaby. My oldest child, Hannah, has followed in my footsteps and works 30 hours a week in the same field. She spent her high school years volunteering for Best Buddies and Special Olympics.  My middle child, Sullivan, was born with an extremely rare craniofacial abnormality and has undergone over 16 major surgeries. He has just secured his first job experience with the assistance of DSAW-Family Services. My youngest, Jonas, is currently in the 7th grade and exploring new hobbies. He seems to be following in his father's artistic footsteps and enjoys drawing and designing. He has an amazing sense of humor and keeps us all laughing. My husband and I have been married for over 20 years and met back in college. He was in a theater production of Shakespeare that I was required to see for a class. I knew right away he was the one and inevitably it was our theater instructor who introduced us.

When I am not working, I spend a good deal of my free time advocating for human rights that include awareness of socio-economic inequities and social change, as well as environmental awareness. When I have down time I always spend it with my family. They are my world. We enjoy traveling, exploring new environments, arts programs, playing board games, eating out and always laughing and loving.

Meet a DSAW Leader: Alex

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Hello, my name is Alex Craig and I am the newly appointed Office and Event Assistant at the DSAW State Headquarters! My background is in Cell & Tissue Biomedical Engineering and I have worked on research projects such as organ preservation and cancer migration. Although extremely interesting and challenging, I felt a necessary interpersonal aspect of that career field was lacking for me. Thus, I took a plunge and moved to Nong Khai, Thailand alone last year! There I took on a position as a middle school science teacher, as well as a personal goal of eating every Thai dish I could get my hands on. 

Having the opportunity to travel to over 20 countries has allowed me to see the world from many different angles. Countless times I have been blown away at the beauty, as well as silenced by the hardships. It was through these experiences that I made the decision to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector, focused on advocating for historically disadvantaged and underrepresented populations. As a born & raised Milwaukee native, I didn’t have to look far to become enamored with DSAW, it’s mission, and the families we reach. 

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When I’m not working, you can most likely find me playing with my younger siblings Violet (1) and Liam (3), or sitting in the sun with my face in a book. Additionally, I volunteer as a Crisis Counselor for Crisis Text Line and I’m a part time Trivia Host at a local Milwaukee pub. As you can tell, I stay busy with a wide variety of different tasks! However, working with people with Down syndrome brings me the most joy and fulfillment. I feel blessed to have this opportunity and look forward to continuing to bring my diverse background to this rewarding position.

If you are interested in volunteering for DSAW in the Milwaukee area, feel free to contact me! 

Meet a DSAW Leader: Marie

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My name is Marie Sherman and I’ve recently been inducted as a member of the DSAW Sheboygan chapter board! I am also the Project Manager of the 2018 DSAW Sheboygan Awareness Walk! I’ve been married to my wonderful husband, John, just about 5 years and am a mother of two incredibly amazing children. My family and I moved to the Sheboygan county from the Minneapolis, MN area just over 3 years ago, and I currently work full-time.

My son, John Wayne, is 3 years old and a wild, loving young man who is an attentive brother to his little sister Evelyn. Evelyn just turned 11 months old this past weekend, and how the time has flown! We found out that our sweet girl was blessed with an extra chromosome about 10 days after her birth when the karyotype lab returned. We were quickly connected with the DS clinic at Children’s Hospital, where the experienced team helped connect us with Parent’s First Call program and DSAW to name a few. We’ve learned how much this diagnosis has blessed, and enriched our lives. Evelyn shows us daily tenacity that is inspiring. Her graceful determination tackles whatever life throws her way without losing the infectious and loving personality she is known for. She always leaves those who meet her with a smile! 

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Being introduced to such a vast and compassionate community has compelled me to get involved with DSAW. This new family we’ve been introduced to has brought new experiences, resources, knowledge, friendships and adventures. I am eager to help give back to a program and community that has already enriched my life so much, and will continue to touch more.  Looking forward to what the future has in store!

Meet a DSAW Leader: Erin

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Hi! My name is Erin Miller. I just started working at the DSAW state office in West Allis, and I’m on the autism spectrum. I graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in English Writing , and am on both the Autism Society and A.L.A.S board (Alianza Latina Aplicando Soluciones); promoting the independence of people. Everywhere I go, I find connections in our communities! When I worked at an inclusive summer camp, we started out autism-focused.  Then we found *so many people* needed acceptance and inclusion. So we decided to open it up to everyone! When I started lesson planning at DSAW, I learned that both the students and I do better with extra time to think.  People with disabilities are often said to have special needs, but really, everyone needs help sometimes.  With the needed support, we can live great, big beautiful lives! I look forward to connecting with you! 

 

Meet a DSAW Leader: Becky

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Hi, my name is Becky Berndt and I am on the DSAW- Green Bay board as the Vice President and Secretary.  I have been a stay at home mom for the past 10 years and prior to that I was a classroom teacher.  My husband, Jeremy, and I have been married 19 years and are excited to be celebrating our 20th Anniversary this summer.  We have five wonderful children, ages 17, 13, 9, 5 and 3.  Our 5 year old, Evelyn, was prenatally diagnosed at 11 weeks with Down syndrome.  Evelyn has successfully endured and recovered from heart surgery and Leukemia (AML).  She is an absolute rock star and our superhero!

After moving to Wisconsin 4 years ago, I was looking for other families blessed with a child with Down syndrome to connect with. After discovering DSAW - Green Bay, not only did I find support, knowledge and fun, but also cherished friendships.  What started with participating in the Awareness Walk 4 years ago grew into becoming a board member last year.  I look forward to new and exciting programs, activities and friendships for DSAW- Green Bay and all of DSAW! The sky’s the limit!

Meet a DSAW Leader: Tracie

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Hi, my name is Tracie Quade and I am a parent volunteer for North Central WI. I am a full time mom with a part time job on the weekends as a black jack dealer. My husband, Jason, and I have been married for 4 years and will celebrate our 5th Anniversary this fall. We have two beautiful children that continue to amaze us every day. Our daughter, Grace, will be 4 in April. Our son Benjamin, or “Benny” as we call him, is 18 months old. Benny was diagnosed at birth with Down Syndrome. At that time I had no idea what to expect or where to go for answers to my millions of questions. After finding the DSAW Central WI chapter I gained knowledge and friendships that I had been seeking. I also gained a passion in telling others about my sons diagnosis and the lottery that we had won! 

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Over the last few months I have been privileged to work with DSAW in coordinating and helping plan events for our North Central parent outreach group. My goal for 2018 is to reach as many families as possible in the Northwoods of WI so that they might find the same support, friendship and education that I did through DSAW.

Meet a DSAW Leader: Krystina

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Hi! My name is Krystina Jankus. I have been with DSAW now for over a year and recently became the President of the Sheboygan & Surrounding Counties Chapter. My youngest baby girl is 2 and was diagnosed with Down syndrome -- she is the reason i have become so involved with DSAW. 

In my time with DSAW thus far, I have helped to plan and host events throughout our coverage area, and was the Raffle Captain for the 2017 Sheboygan Down Syndrome Awareness Walk. Since Phoenyx was born, I have wanted nothing more than to learn more, find every opportunity for her, and show others that she is not different! DSAW has helped me become stronger and more aware of thingsI may not have been aware of before.

Until Phoenyx was born, I was a hairstylist of 11 years. I married my husband in 2016 and have 3 amazing kids! If you live in the Greater Sheboygan Area, I hope to see you at one of our upcoming events.

Meet a DSAW Leader: Mary West

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Hi! My name is Mary West. I joined DSAW Family Services in 2015 and currently serve as a daily life skills specialist, IEP/Behavior specialist, and a job developer/coach.  There are few things that I enjoy more than helping my clients succeed and watching their joy when they do.  This truly is my dream job!

My background is as an elementary special education teacher.  I hold a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies and Youth Leadership and a masters degree in Exceptional Education, both from UW-Milwaukee.  I come to DSAW Family Services after just over a decade of working in elementary schools, first as a paraprofessional in the Whitefish Bay School District, and then as a teacher in the West Bend School District.

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I’ve been married to my amazing husband since August of 2014.  We are hoping to start a family soon.  We enjoy spending time with our family and friends, as well as travelling.  In the past few years I’ve been to such far off places as Thailand and Cambodia.  However, I’m just as happy traveling within the U.S. to spend as much time as possible with my awesome nieces and nephews, or following the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team, of which I am a huge fan.  Go Badgers!

Taking on my position with DSAW Family Services is one of the greatest decisions that I’ve ever made.  I love spending time with my clients and enjoy that every day is a new adventure.  In particular, I love helping clients find jobs.  Sharing in the joy of watching a young person with a disability succeed in his or her first job is something that never ceases to bring me happiness.

I cannot imagine working with better colleagues and clients on an everyday basis.  I look forward to meeting more of you as my journey with DSAW Family Services continues!

Meet a DSAW Leader: Chris Gagne

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Hi, my name is Chris Gagne and I am the new Senior Program Director for DSAW-Family Services.  Before I came to DSAW,  I was a Special Education Teacher for the Shorewood School District and the Slinger School District for 10 years.  My favorite part of my teaching career was traveling with my students to Hawaii and the Florida Everglades and watching them grow through all of the adventures we had together.  

This hints at my previous profession as a Recreation Therapist and my love for the outdoors.  My role as a recreation therapist enabled me to work with adults with acquired brain injuries and the elderly.  I was even a camp director out in California and Nevada for awhile.

Having children settled me into the teaching role, getting my Masters degree in education, and finally finding my way into the DSAW world.  I have two biological children (18 and 21) and one foster son age 13.  My husband is a saint in the making and my kids are all adventurous like myself - one heading to South Africa for a couple of years!

I consider my clients at DSAW -FS an extension of my family - my phone is filled with more pictures of them than my own.  I hope I get a chance to meet more of you in the near future.  DSAW-FS is the best !  We have THE BEST staff and really can not be compared to any other agency out there .... because we love those with DS and other disbilities and want to be a part of shaping their future.

Meet a DSAW Leader: Jessica

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Hello everyone! My name is Jessica Raschka and I am the President of the DSAW-Central WI chapter. I got involved with our local chapter after deciding to start the process of adopting a baby with Down syndrome.

This is not where my journey of Down syndrome started. I have always been drawn to individuals with Down syndrome and that lead me to an education in special education. I worked as an ABA therapist in the MN school district. I had quite a few students on my caseload who had Down syndrome. I later went on to proving ABA privately in home for families. Along with ABA I started to advocate for families in IEP meetings.

In 2009 my husband and I opened a store for special needs kids and their families. We sold equipment for therapy, visual aids, adaptive equipment and toys. Sadly we had to close our doors.

We were blessed with four amazing kids who have special needs themselves. We have a rare chromosome duplication called Duplication 15q13.3. Our kids also deal with autism, epilepsy, OCD, sensory processing disorder and feeding issues. So when it came to adopting we were happy to look into special needs adoption. After much prayer we decided to pursue adopting a baby with Down syndrome. That's how on Aug. 6th we came to be parents to a special little boy that we named Corbin. We are now apart of the Lucky Few!!

 

Meet a DSAW Leader: Stacy

Hi everyone! My name is Stacy Schneider and I am an Advisory Board Member with DSAW-Green Bay. I became involved with DSAW shortly after my daughter Zoey was born in 2013. She has introduced me to a whole new world that I had previously been missing out on. Zoey has a younger brother named Zander, whom she adores, but also likes to show who’s boss at times. We have two miniature dachshunds named Deuce and Bella. I work full time as a Product Engineer for a contract furniture company that my husband Tony also works for as a Project Manager. Our family enjoys spending time together, going for walks, and watching movies.

Since the birth of our daughter we have met many different families and shared our experiences with each other by being involved with DSAW.  Last year I volunteered to help with the walk committee and enjoyed planning for our biggest fundraiser of the year. This year I became a board member and have helped organize playgroups, parents’ night out, a family movie event, and our first Strider Bike camp for younger kids. We had 12 campers attend a week long adventure to help them learn about balance and coordination. It was a blast!