In 2013, Jeanne Doherty and Charlotte Gray started the first and only chapter of the Colorado-based Down Syndrome Autism Connection or DSAC. The chapter, based in Massachusetts, is an affiliate of MDSC. Charlotte became Executive Director and Jeanne, who started out as Board member, is now President. Compelled by necessity and aided by the strength of their characters, they grew into their roles as pioneers, all the while driven by their own children, Jessica and Jacob, who have both Down syndrome and autism. Over the years, Jeanne and Charlotte have grown the DSAC to a veritable lifeline for countless families whose children share the Down syndrome and autism diagnoses. At the helm, Jeanne and Charlotte’s dedication and commitment to their families is unmatched. As Robin Sattell, Co-Founder of the national DSAC has said, “Charlotte and Jeanne have changed the lives of thousands of families with very little fanfare. They are silent, humble, modern-day heroes.”
Outstanding Educator Award
From an early age, Melissa Levin knew that she would devote her life to working with and helping individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Each step of the way, as she took on new and greater responsibilities while building her career and gaining expertise, the one constant has been her dedication to serving and lifting up people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Today, Melissa is a social worker and educator in Newton Public Schools’ Community Connections Program, a transition program for people with disabilities, where she teaches and helps students and families navigate the educational system. According to her peers, her unique strength as an educator stems from her capacity to see the whole person as well as her ability to weave together her background in mental health and education, a skill set that has served her well, but more importantly, her families, during the pandemic. Passionate and easy to connect with, skilled and motivated by empowering others personal growth, Melissa is the embodiment of an outstanding educator.
Exemplary Employer Award
After her job applications were repeatedly rejected with the claim that she was not “a good fit,” Collette Divitto realized that the traditional job market did not seem to recognize what she brought to the table and set out on her own path, opening her own business, Collettey’s Cookies, which has become a national and worldwide success. Collettey’s Cookies’ stated mission is about creating jobs for people with disabilities and changing the public’s perception of just how capable people with disabilities truly are. Collette is putting this mission into practice by hiring people with disabilities to work at Collettey’s Cookies. In 2019, Collette partnered with MDSC to host its inaugural Your Next Star Employment Academy, serving as a co-teacher and helping to craft the curriculum, train MDSC self advocates to be workforce-ready, and offer paid internships for people to gain employment experience. Her leadership, not only as a role model and entrepreneur, but also as a spokesperson spreading awareness to increase inclusive employment opportunities for people with disabilities makes her an exemplary employer.
Richard and Feyza Shipley
As close friends to MDSC members Ozge and Eric Getkin, Richard and Feyza Shipley have been there for the Getkins from the very beginning, supporting them from the moment their son Taylan was born with Down syndrome. Not only did Richard and Feyza provide their priceless friendship, compassion, and support, they quickly found other means, such as joining Taylan’s Troopers Buddy Walk team, to demonstrate their profound desire to help the Getkins and other families build a bright future for their loved ones with Down syndrome. Now, in the years since, through the generosity of their Shipley Family Foundation, they have supported many MDSC programs aimed at reaching diverse and underserved populations not only throughout Massachusetts but around the country. With support from the Shipley Foundation, MDSC has been able to partner with the Massachusetts General Hospital Down Syndrome Program to help improve health outcomes in diverse populations and provide individualized supports and resources to families who would otherwise go without. Additionally, their support has enabled MDSC to bring on two new team members to enhance outreach and engagement of families from diverse backgrounds. And now, in the midst of the pandemic, MDSC has utilized generous Shipley Family Foundation funds to provide personalized supports and resources for families from diverse backgrounds whose child has been hospitalized and/or whose families have been negatively impacted by Covid. These resources and supports would not have been possible without the forward-thinking, dedicated efforts of Richard and Feyza Shipley.
Jim and Maryanne Noonan and Blue Note Technology
In 2010, MDSC first partnered with Jim and Maryanne Noonan and Blue Note Technology to help build the organization’s website from scratch. With a determination to help us achieve our mission and a flexibility to adjust on the fly, Blue Note helped define MDSC as the premiere organization for the Down syndrome community in Massachusetts and helped us spread our message of empowerment and inclusion. Since then, and perhaps even more remarkably, Jim and Maryanne have continued over many years to selflessly give of their time, never asking for anything in return, and in doing so, have demonstrated their deep devotion to the Down syndrome community. In the last year, Blue Note even stepped up again to help us add a feature to highlight critically important Covid-19 information. They have been unsung heroes working behind the scenes to ensure that we at MDSC can deliver critical information during a critical time.