Celebrate James!


AWAREness – from the moment my husband told me after the birth of our twins, that our baby boy had Down syndrome, I was AWARE that I was going to meet some very special people that I wouldn’t otherwise have met if James did not have Down syndrome.  The first of all of these special people was James himself.  He was the sweetest baby I had ever met.  He was perfect in our eyes and all who met him!

Jason and I have met some really spectacular people along this journey, some of them include:

Jack and Trish – who we met our first day at Stepping Stones, James’ best friend and Trish one of mine.

The Therapists and Teachers guided us in those early days of Early Intervention and for the next 8+ years helped us see that although James was going to have to work a little harder each day, it was nothing he couldn’t handle.

AWAREness – James isn’t yet aware that he is different or how Down syndrome makes him different.  My wish is that he never really sees how different he might be.  Most importantly that he understands and we are all AWARE of how alike he is to you and me.

Please come celebrate James with me this Saturday, 11/5 and party with The Nerds at Cocktails for a Cause and help raise awareness and funds for kids and families who need the therapy The Arc offers through the Stepping Stones EI program.

–Eileen Hahn (Mother of James)

Click here to make your reservations:  thecandlelighters.org/cocktailsforacause2016

Celebrate with Lisa and Stephen


What better way to spread awareness and CELEBRATE people with Down syndrome during Down Syndrome Awareness Month, than to congratulate two former Stepping Stones students on the occasion of their marriage on October 1, 2016.  
Their day began with a beautiful ceremony at St. Pius X Church, where they recited vows to each other, personally written by each of them separately.  Stephen and Lisa declared their love for each other and knew they would be together forever after meeting at Stepping Stones where they attended Early Intervention and Preschool.  The CELEBRATION of their union continued at a beautiful reception held at the OldeMill Inn in Basking Ridge.  For me personally it was a true honor and privilege to be included on this momentous day and to be able to share it with two such deserving people who I know and love.  
There are so many ways we can CELEBRATE OUR CHILDREN whether it be with them on their wedding day or raising money to help the non-funded programs of The Arc of Essex County provide opportunities to assist them along life’s journey.
Please come and continue to CELEBRATE OUR CHILDREN this Saturday, 11/5 with The Nerds at Cocktails for a Cause!
–Judy Bellina (Teacher, Mentor, Friend)
Click here to make your reservations: thecandlelighters.org/cocktailsforacause2016

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)

Click here to make your reservations: http://thecandlelighters.org/cocktailsforacause2016

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)

Click here to make your reservation