Calendar shows potential of children born with Down syndrome

A new calendar published by the Schaumburg-based UPS for DownS is turning heads, and not just because of its beautiful portraits. A closer look reveals short profiles, which pack a powerful punch.

This is the second calendar published by the parent support group for children with Down syndrome, and the first time its members included a description of the featured youngsters and young adults.

“I wanted people to be surprised,” says Shannon Denna, a math teacher at Fremd High School, whose middle child, 5-year old Riley, was born with Down syndrome.

Denna says she wanted to inform young parents of children born with Down syndrome, as well as educators, medical personnel, friends and neighbors.

“I wanted to open their eyes,” Denna adds, “to all the amazing things our kids do.”

Take the cover. It features a photo of 23-year-old Katelyn Grunewald of Palatine playing with 2-year-old Emma Deluga, daughter of Wheeling High School Associate Principal Erin Deluga.

Katelyn graduated from Palatine High School and she works at Mariano's in Palatine. When she's not working, she performs on stage, represents Special Olympics as a global messenger and competes at the state level in powerlifting.

Emma, meantime, is enrolled in a full inclusion setting at Bright Horizons Early Childhood Center, where she loves reading books and singing, while receiving multiple therapies weekly.

Other subjects of photo-bios include second-grader Gavin Lochner, who attends Collins School in Schaumburg, where he works on his reading skills along with his classmates and loves to play baseball with them through the Schaumburg Athletic Association.

Later in the calendar, Gabrielle Esbenshade poses with her violin. She learned to play the instrument through the Suzuki method beginning at age 5, and she has participated in the Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 orchestra and in the orchestra at Frost Junior High School.

“We started her in violin to stimulate her left arm,” says her mother, Isabelle. “But we found she has a great ear for music and she enjoys the challenge. She hopes to play in the Schaumburg Youth Orchestra some day.”

Another musician, Nicholas Pesce, is a junior at Lake Zurich High School, where he plays cymbals in the marching band and a range of percussion instruments in the symphonic band.

He especially enjoys playing bass drum with Lake Zurich's pep band during basketball season. Last year, his sophomore classmates voted him homecoming prince.

The inspirational stories go on and on. And that is the point, says Michael Reninger of Schaumburg, a former board member and parent.

“The calendar is a powerful representation of the potential of individuals with disabilities — when they are accepted and  included in our communities,” Reninger says.

Denna says that she and her husband, Robert, found it “scary and daunting” when they learned of Riley's diagnosis, but meeting other parents and getting to know their children, as well as attending events, helped change their outlook.

“Our whole attitude changed,” Denna says. “Instead of talking about her limitations, we talked about how to expand her world, open doors and challenge her.”

Katelyn Grunewald, 23, represents Special Olympics as a global messenger and competes at the state level in powerlifting, and Emma Deluga, 2, loves reading books and singing at Bright Horizons Early Childhood Center. Both live in Palatine. Photo by Alicia Wehby
Gavin Lochner of Schaumburg relaxes in his second-grade room at Collins Elementary School, where he loves to read. Photo by Alicia Wehby
Gabrielle Esbenshade of Schaumburg started playing the violin at age 5 and learned through the Suzuki method. Photo by Alicia Wehby

UPS for DownS calendar

What: 2015 calendar featuring portraits and stories of people with Down syndrome

Who: Published by United Parent Support for Down Syndrome

Where: <a href=""></a> or call (847) 895-2100

Cost: $10, plus $4 for shipping and handling

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