Down Syndrome Association of Central NJ is thriving post-COVID
EWING — Every year in advance of World Down Syndrome Day, we check in with the Down Syndrome Association of Central New Jersey, which is usually preparing its annual Rock Your Socks Off dance party.
That event was canceled at the last minute in 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with conditions still not safe for an in-person celebration, DSACNJ is instead pivoting to a Trivia Night, to be held virtually on Sunday.
March 21 is designated as World Down Syndrome Day because the disorder is defined by a third copy of the 21st chromosome.
Honor Griffin is just one of the many young people with Down syndrome who DSACNJ has welcomed into its family. He graduated from Hillsborough High School in 2019, and plays the trombone, speed skates and plays basketball and soccer.
He would like those unfamiliar with the affliction to know that he is just like them.
"I play sports. I like movies and playing video games. I like going on vacation with my family. I think about the future," Griffin said.
Everyone with Down syndrome processes their learning experience differently, according to DSACNJ President Melissa Burgos, but socialization and engagement with peers who both have the disorder, and don't, remain important in a post-COVID world.
That is why Burgos has been satisfied to see the virtual programs offered by the organization and its Club DREAMS enrichment center get such a positive response over the past year.
Club DREAMS was supposed to open last May, but its in-person launch was, of course, delayed by the coronavirus.
However, going virtual has expanded the group's reach beyond New Jersey — even internationally, according to Burgos.
A virtual platform doesn't work for everyone, and hands-on life and job skills training would still be best, but Burgos said online offerings will be a permanent part of DSACNJ's future.
"For some of our participants, I think it's made a world of difference to help them feel connected to their peers, and continue to engage in academic and enrichment opportunities," she said.
The WDSD Trivia Night is an opportunity for some of DSACNJ's faraway contacts to stay involved, particularly if they were unable to attend a past Rock Your Socks Off event.
This Monday also marks the deadline for the organization's WDSD Poster Contest, and Sunday will still bring an opportunity for kids and parents to show off their socks ... just not in person.
For Honor, he's waiting for the return of DSACNJ's Halloween party, at which he has dressed up as Michael Jackson, Luigi of Nintendo fame, and Darth Vader in the past.