Alicia’s Remarkable Adoption Story


My husband, Dave, and I chose to be Alicia’s parents. We met Alicia, fell in love with her and became her parents through international adoption. Although, Alicia having Down syndrome was something we had to consider, to us, it did not define her and ultimately didn’t matter when it came to our decision to adopt her. Yes, it is a part of her and is one of the many pieces that makes her the person she is. But we saw a smart, charismatic and amazingly strong and resilient little girl, who happened to have Down syndrome. Her strength is one of her traits that first stood out to me. And it continues to inspire me every day.

Alicia spent her first year living on the streets, she spent the next 6 months in an orphanage that neglected the children before she arrived at the orphanage where we met her. Despite a rough beginning, Alicia remained happy and strong. While in the last orphanage, through her strength, she taught herself how to walk. She taught herself how to eat. She taught herself how to run and climb. Seeing these amazing accomplishments and progression from one year to the next is when Dave and I knew we had to take her home. We had to give Alicia a chance to reach her fullest potential. When her caretakers at the orphanage told her that we were her family and taking her to her new home, she forced a smile on her face and didn’t shed a tear. She continues to conquer any challenge in front of her, from leaving her country, to the first time on an airplane, to doctor’s appointments and surgery and of course her first day of school.

After all the changes that we had thrown at Alicia in bringing her home, we were nervous how she would react to being in a school setting. Thankfully, we found Stepping Stones. Their small class size and amazing staff to student ratio is perfect for Alicia. Every student gets the attention they need. The school is a family. It’s apparent as soon as you walk through the door, that the teachers and classroom aides truly care for and love these children and are teaching them and pushing them to their fullest potential. And I see it in Alicia, too. She loves school and sometimes on the weekends she even asks if she can go to school. Stepping Stones also supports the parents. They in essence teach us how to teach her and also teach us about Down syndrome.

Every day, Dave and I are still learning. Still learning how to parent and still learning about Down syndrome. There are frustrating moments, like having a 5-year-old that was still in process of toilet training, but the rewards are well worth it. To see her smile with pride as she swam for the first time on her own (and only after 5 lessons!) was priceless. I’ve watched her sweet, kind demeanor and intelligence break down barriers of people’s perception of Down syndrome. I often get a response of “Wow, she’s smart” (as if I didn’t know). We are still learning how Down syndrome will affect Alicia. It is a part of her. But one thing we do know: Alicia is amazing.

Please come celebrate Alicia, change perceptions and party with The Nerds at Cocktails for a Cause “Celebrating Our Children”.

–Stephanie Dotto (Alicia’s mom)

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Stephanie Celebrates Braden and Down Syndrome Awareness Month


Awareness~ October is Down syndrome Awareness Month, a chance to spread awareness and celebrate people with Down syndrome.  It is a great time to share the news and make the world aware of the abilities and many accomplishments of people born with Down syndrome.  It is my hope that we can do more than make others aware.  There is so much more to it than that!  I hope you get a chance to feel it!

 I am the very lucky mom of three amazing children.  Yes,    since I am their mom, that makes me biased, but they truly are amazing!  Carley, 19, is a freshman in college, Ansley, 15, is a high school sophomore and Braden is 11 years old, attends ECLC in Chatham, NJ and has Down syndrome.  Before Braden was born, I was certainly aware of Down syndrome.  I was a teacher and privately tutored a little girl who had Down syndrome.  I was aware that she was bright and funny. I was aware that she was adorable and adored by her family.  I was aware that she had challenges.  She was in a body cast from hip surgery and couldn’t attend school until she recovered.  I was aware that this family was also quite like any other.

It wasn’t until May of 2005 that I would become more aware than that.  On May 13, 2005 at 11:00pm, Braden Porter Hopton was born with Down syndrome.  There are many words that I can use to describe the hours, days, and weeks that followed.  I was scared, shocked, worried, anxious, tired, and aware.  I was suddenly very aware of what a diagnosis of Down syndrome could mean to Braden, to me, to my family, and to my world.  I heard all about it from the neonatologists, I read about it online and in books.  All of these resources were of course helpful but none of these resources told me what I would soon learn from Braden about having Down syndrome.  Braden taught me to be patient and cheerful. He taught me the meaning of true tenacity.  He brought a level of happiness into our home that we would never have expected.  I believe that each of us is better for knowing Braden: we are more understanding, we realize that we have been given gifts and talents that it is our responsibility to honor to the best of our ability, and we watch Braden do this daily.

The world of Down syndrome is a lovely place. We entered a world of kindness.  We were now a part of the most supportive, phenomenal community imaginable, the Down syndrome community.  We met therapists and teachers dedicated to enriching the lives of these beautiful babies with Down syndrome.  We met parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings of these beautiful babies who had Down syndrome.  We all shared something special now.   It was as if we were members of a special club.  There is a “feeling” that I have no words to describe. The closest thing I can think of would be JOY!

Being aware that people who have Down syndrome are smart, funny, beautiful, and talented people is great.  Being fortunate enough to experience the “feeling” of knowing someone who has Down syndrome is extraordinary.  If you are one of the lucky people who have a close personal connection to the Down syndrome community, I’m so happy for you.  If you haven’t yet been given that opportunity, I hope that you will do more than make yourself aware.  I hope that you get to feel it!

Please come celebrate Braden, raise awareness and have a blast with The Nerds at Cocktails for a Cause “Celebrating Our Children” on Saturday, November 5th.

–Stephanie Hopton (Mother of Braden)

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Grandpa is Celebrating Down Syndrome Awareness month

jackson-and-gpa gma-and-jackson


Our youngest grandson, Jackson Raphael Shulkowski, has Down Syndrome.  He is our Miracle Grandson.  He had to fight to survive when born and he sure knows how to do battle.  By the way, his name is the combination of two great fighters – General Jackson and Archangel Raphael. Today he is one of the most positive and happy persons you will ever meet.  He is loved and cherished by his six siblings and wonderful parents.  He is a nonstop bundle of joy who is always smiling and ready to go.

As a young adult with four of our own children, I worked with the ARC of Johnson County, KS and chaired the Special Olympics for Johnson County for three years.  Our children, including Jackson’s Mother, Debbie, used to pull our red wagon around the neighborhoods selling Honey Bears (bottles of honey in a bear-shaped bottle) to support the Special Olympics and ARC.  I also helped with intervening on behalf of special children and adults for education and group home projects.  I learned you receive multitudes more than you give to these special children.

As I watch Jackson progress in Stepping Stones, he reminds me of the pure joy special children exude as they feel their accomplishments through the pride of their family and friends.  I always cried with joy at the Special Olympics as the children competed and, of course, everyone won ribbons.

Jackson is an inspiration to his family and friends, and our lives are so much better because he is with us.  This is especially enhanced because of the love and care that he has received at Stepping Stones, one of the programs that the Candle Lighters helped to support.  I cannot think of a better way to spread the good news of these children of pure joy than through supporting Stepping Stones so that all the Miracles can succeed.

Please come celebrate Jackson, raise awareness and have a blast with The Nerds at Cocktails for a Cause “Celebrating Our Children” on Saturday, November 5th.

—  John Goodrich (Grandfather to Jackson)

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Carolyn is Celebrating Down Syndrome Awareness

My brother’s name is Jack Phillip Foley and he has Down Syndrome.  He was born six weeks premature on March 17th, 2004 . He needed open heart surgery when he was only 11 months old.  Growing up with Jack is often chaotic.  He likes to run away from us.  Sometimes he yells at us. He’s stubborn if he doesn’t get his way.  He is loud.  He also says some things he probably shouldn’t…. He is in many ways a typical adolescent boy…
He is also the sweetest and funniest kid I have ever met.  Everywhere we go people know and love Jack.  He’s everyone’s best friend.  He has that effect on people.  He knows how to charm people, he knows how to persuade people, and he always finds a way to make people forgive him.  He’s extremely clever that way.
Having a brother with Down Syndrome teaches you very valuable skills.  He has had a profound effect on me.  I think two of my greatest strengths are my patience and my ability to listen to people. The only reason I can do that is Jack. He’s taught me those skills.  But more importantly he teaches love.
Today he’s in the 7th grade and he’s a lot like other boys his age.  He plays baseball, he does Special Olympics, and he LOVES football.  So much of who Jack is today is because of the early intervention both he and my family got at Stepping Stones.  He started there at just 6 weeks old and it’s been such an important part of our lives.  The therapists, the teachers, and the other families have always been there to help and offer guidance, even now many years later.. Without them I don’t know where we would be.
Please come celebrate Jack, raise awareness and have a blast with The Nerds at Cocktails for a Cause “Celebrating Our Children”.
– Carolyn Foley (Jack’s sister)
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