For over 30 years, the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville has been the only agency in the northeast Florida and southeast Georgia area that assists families of those with Down syndrome. Their assistance begins from prenatal diagnosis and continues through early intervention, the school-aged years, and throughout adulthood.

This year, they were selected by the Jacksonville Automobile Dealers Association as that group’s charity of the year. JADA has donated over $2,200,000 to local charities and community service programs in the Jacksonville area. This year, $10,000 went to DSAJ.

Down syndrome occurs in one out of every 700 births according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Mikan Crittenden has seen how much the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville has helped her baby, Brooklyn.

“She was positive for Trisomy 21 and then we were connected with the DSAJ after she went to a specialist,” Crittenden said.

The Crittenden’s credit the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville for helping them get adequately adjusted to their new normal.

“First of all, our social life has doubled. We have grown so many friends through the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville. Through small events just for her age and through larger events like the Buddy Walk and things like that. And we’ve been able to meet a lot of other moms and families who are in similar stages of their journey,” she said.

“We aim for inclusion,” said Debbie Revels, DSAJ’s Executive Director. “We want our families and our beautiful individuals with down syndrome to be included in the community, for them to be recognized for the gifts and talents that they have, and to have the same opportunities as you and I have.”

Revels said in addition to changing Down syndrome stigmas by creating more inclusive communities. The organization also backs its families financially.

“We help provide occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and so much, much more than that. Therapies are very expensive, sometimes children need this throughout their entire lifetime. So, we have a scholarship for every family, so we help pay for those therapies,” Revels said.

Crittenden has seen that help firsthand.

“She is in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.  She’s doing great in all of those areas and the DSAJ helps supports that as well. They’ve been really supportive in getting us connected with the right therapists and some financial support as well,” Crittenden told News4JAX reporter Lena Pringle.

From financial, physical, and emotional support, DSAJ aims to proactively help children with down syndrome thrive into adulthood through a series of educational, sports, and trade programs.

“They finish high school, that want to be like us. They want to get a job, so we’re offering those support and training that they need. We’re out in the community knocking on businesses that are very eager to hire our folks,” Revels said.

Baby Brooklyn is now 16 months, and her family is excited to be on this journey and look towards the future with hope thanks to DSAJ.

“They have been such a huge support for me and helping me recognize how down syndrome can be such a positive part of our life. It doesn’t have to consume our whole life but it’s part of our life. Their resources are there for us when we’re ready for them and as we’re ready for them. I would love to see her just be part of a community that loves and respects and adores who she is as a whole person,” Crittenden said.

As the DSAJ embarks on year 34 of its mission, it hopes to continue to impact and positively reshape Down syndrome communities across the River City. One family at a time. “The best is yet to come,” said Revels. “And with the support of the community, we have so much more we want to do. Inclusion is that. We want to be included in the school system. We want to be included in the community, included in the workplace. So just embrace our mission and vision and we will continue to grow.”