For New Jersey families who receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome in their child, either during pregnancy or following birth, or for families who've recently moved here and have kids or adults with Down syndrome, it can be tough to know where to turn. A Central Jersey group is trying to reach them, with the message that people with Down syndrome are "more alike than different."

In the case of Amy Johns, whose daughter was born with Down syndrome in 2011, the Down Syndrome Association of Central New Jersey was a godsend. The support organization, based in Ewing and led mostly by parent volunteers, offers educational programs, referrals to specialists, community events, and perhaps most importantly, the personal experiences of its members.

(Photo by: Amy Johns)

"It was so wonderful to know that there was a hotline where there would be a seasoned mom, right here in my town, who's walked in my shoes, who I could ask any question," Johns said.

DSACNJ's target area encompasses Mercer, Burlington, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, but its reach has also extended to Bucks County, Pa. For Johns, her involvement with the organization fostered a desire to pay forward the help she had received.

"Those people with Down syndrome, trisomy 21, are people that are just like you and I," she said. "And it may take them a little longer, and they may need to learn in a different way, but we just wanted to celebrate all their accomplishments."

To that end, DSACNJ has organized its second annual "Rock Your Socks Off" Dance, to be held at the Cranbury Inn this upcoming weekend. It's being held in conjunction with World Down Syndrome Day, usually observed on March 21; genetically speaking, Down syndrome is defined by the occurrence of a third copy of the 21st chromosome. However, due to scheduling conflicts, the event in Cranbury is happening this Saturday, March 12. Attendees will receive multi-colored socks, to represent the differences between all of us.

"We really hope and strive to educate the community at large about Down syndrome, and

(Photo by: Amy Johns)

we really hope to break down barriers and eliminate misconceptions,” said Melissa Burgos, DSACNJ president, who added her organization also has the support of Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat.

The next phase of DSACNJ's outreach is continuing to build strong connections to the medical community, so more families can find help.

New Jersey 101.5's Jersey Prize Team will be on hand at Saturday's dance. For more information, visit

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's evening news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015, email, and listen for his live reports Monday through Thursday nights between 6:30 and 11 p.m.