Our journey began with the birth of our first child, our daughter Keira. It was shortly after she was born that we learned she had Down syndrome. With the diagnosis came a flood of emotions as this was a life-changing moment for our young family. With my experience in special needs education I knew how much joy she would bring into our lives but I was also aware of the struggles we would encounter.
My mother was a special needs teacher and I had worked in special education for 4 years at the time Keira was born. This made the Down syndrome diagnosis less intimidating but also aware of a lack of resources available in the El Paso area. I felt hopeless as I looked for resources and continued to come up empty handed. Like any parent, this only made me want to work harder to provide my daughter with the opportunities she needs to live a rich, fulfilling life.
As we were navigating parenthood of a child with special needs, we began to look for support within the El Paso community. When Keira was close to being 2 years old, we were fortunate to find a small group of families in similar situations. With the help of the El Paso Community Foundation this group of parents eventually became the Down Syndrome Coalition for El Paso (DSCEP). The DSCEP was formed to raise awareness, provide education, and support families of individuals with Down syndrome in the El Paso community.
Since it was founded the DSCEP has opened a preschool, Every Little Blessing Preschool, which offers an early intervention program where children with Down syndrome learn alongside their typically developing peers. We offer a weekly book club for young adults with Down syndrome as well as a music program for all ages. It is through these efforts that we hope to contribute to the lives of the individuals with Down syndrome living in our community. As we continue on this journey, we believe in the El Paso community to help us grow and achieve our goals as we embrace the belief that inclusion and support of individuals with disabilities makes our community that much stronger.
Nancy Castaneda, President of the Down Syndrome Coalition for El Paso