By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – The Global Down Syndrome Foundation is closer to completing a new education center at its Cherry Creek headquarters after two major donations, including one for $750,000 announced in December.

(credit: CBS)

“I want people to see me and what I can do,” said Beth Burczyk, 31, a self-advocate for people with Down syndrome. “I want to be independent.”

Burczyk is an example of someone who has benefited from the foundation and the programs it offers to the community. Her mother, Laura, says the nonprofit has played a huge role in Beth’s success as an adult.

“I think it’s important that our sons and daughters be a vital part of what we are,” she said. “They have to have opportunities but they also have responsibilities.”

(credit: CBS)

The Education Center at the Global Down Syndrome Foundation hopes it can impact people of all ages, helping other nonprofits use that space as well. Programs at the center will provide the skills needed for people with Down syndrome to live healthy and productive lives. Classes will cover a range of topics including computers, cooking and nutrition.

The Daniels Fund gave the foundation $850,000 in total, $100,000 will be used for programs related to life skills. The foundation also received a $1 million grant from The Salah Foundation for the education center.

“My parents dream was to leave a legacy that significantly improves the lives of people with Down syndrome,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, president and CEO of the foundation.

Beth Burczyk (credit: CBS)

“My parents dream was to leave a legacy that significantly improves the lives of people with Down syndrome,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, president and CEO of the foundation.

Whitten says the progress her organization is making comes at a time when major funding for research has increased as well. The National Institutes of Health allocated $37 million to research in 2018. She says it will reach $97 million in 2019, a commitment that could lead to a longer life span and improved outcomes. Global is reaching 10 years since it was founded in Colorado.

“Denver is a growing city, it’s a vibrant city,” she said. “Well placed geographically to be at the center of things of the United States.”

The foundation benefits from the growth of hospitals and a medical corridor forming, she said. Experts are moving here because of that change and Whitten says the nonprofit is part of that growth. But Global started because of a lack of research and medical care for people with Down syndrome almost a decade ago.

LINK: Global Down Syndrome Foundation

“Why shouldn’t some of them be people who are differently abled, why shouldn’t we have people with Down syndrome working?” she said. “Our headquarters is going to be a destination for people to see what people with down syndrome can do.”

The two gifts are a strong start to the total goal of $3 million for the education center. Located in Cherry Creek, inside the foundation’s new headquarters, Whitten hopes to tap into the large number of employers in the neighborhood.

“I think the Global Down Syndrome Foundation is a warm and welcoming group of people who help us to include our sons and daughters in the community,” Burczyk said. “I just think it’s a very bright future, this is a beautiful building. The opportunities that will become available I think through this building are just phenomenal.”

It is that outlook that has parents like Burczyk excited about what the foundation can do from its new building. She says the support from Global through the years has meant a lot to her and Beth.

“Our young adults need jobs and this is one area that I think the educational center will definitely help with,” said Burczyk. “They can achieve goals that are reasonable but also so people can see we have something to contribute.”

One of the programs that she points to for helping her daughter are the social events organized by the foundation. A dance party gave Beth and others the chance to enjoy young adulthood in a way they may not have access to on their own.

“This is an opportunity for young adults with Down syndrome to party,” said Burczyk. “At this point in our lives, I think it’s important that Beth do things that typically adults would typically would do and partying is one of them.”

Beth is an example of someone achieving in many ways. She has a job and pursues several hobbies. While she lives with her mother for now, Beth hopes to live on her own soon by preparing to make meals on her own and do laundry. She even was featured in the annual Be Beautiful Be Yourself fashion show fundraiser for Global in 2014.

“I like to dance a lot and I like to go to the theater,” she said. “I was a model and I was very good and I walked down the runway.”

Whitten says Beth’s example is an important reminder to know that people with Down syndrome are different and should not be grouped together. She is also the parent of a daughter with Down syndrome. The range in skills and talent is an important factor to keep in mind for potential employers.

“There’s a huge spectrum of ability, just like in the typical population,” said Whitten. “It really should be something that helps the company, and helps the employee both.”

While they are more than halfway to their goal of fundraising for the new education center, they hope to have it secured in time to complete the facility by the fall of 2019.

“I think the members of our community have to be comfortable with people with disabilities,” Burczyk said. “We have a part in this community and we certainly can participate positively.”

Burczyk says work opportunities will help people like her daughter contribute to society and that everyone else has to be open to seeing them in that role. Her daughter has already accomplished that and eager to help others to the same.

“I help with the outreach of my community,” said Beth Burczyk. “I have to help other people in my community and they always look up to me, and I’m doing my best.”

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

Comments
  1. iannominous says:

    I’d love to see more centre like this opening all over the world.