Video in NYC's Times Square to feature McHenry County first-grader with Down syndrome
Full of hugs, always with a smile and ready to make everyone laugh.
That's how those around Cody Binger, a first-grader from Union living with Down syndrome, describe him.
"He's just a bright light," said Allison Olsen, a teacher at Huntley Community School District 158. "When he walks through the doors, there's just a bright light around him. And it makes people smile."
On Saturday, Cody's bright light will hit the national stage as he, along with about 500 others, will appear in an hourlong video at Times Square in New York City aimed at spotlighting those living with Down syndrome.
The video is being put on by the National Down Syndrome Society, which, in addition to putting on various events, provides support and resources for those living with the condition.
"We just love to see photos of people with Down syndrome out in the community, doing things, accomplishing things," spokesperson Michelle Sagan said. "It's really all about inclusion ... and awareness."
To get Cody's picture into the video, Cody's mother, Nancy Binger, had to apply for the campaign, she said. The society received about 2,400 entries, from which 500 adults and children living with Down syndrome, were selected.
"They show off these amazing, capable people," Binger said. "I saw it and thought, my kid is pretty cute."
Part of why Binger applied is to have an opportunity to tell the story of those with Down syndrome, she said. Oftentimes, people feel sorry for those living with it. When Binger was pregnant and even after Cody was born, she would tell people her child had Down syndrome, and in response, they'd usually offer condolences.
That misconception is something Binger wants to change. She called having Cody as her child "a gift," and asked how others might feel if before they were born people felt bad for their parents.
"There's nothing to feel sorry about," she said. "We love having him as our son. If you can be on a national stage to help change the way the world sees Down syndrome, I'm all about it."
While Cody does have to deal with some challenges, overall he's not much different from other children, Binger said.
"He's just one of our other children," she said. "We love him the same, and we dream for him the same. We get him involved in activities in just the same way."
He offers a lot to the family too, she said. He's full of hugs and energy and loves to laugh, dance and entertain his siblings and parents.
"Our other kids fight in the morning over who gets to hug Cody first or who gets to play with him," Binger said. "The fact that people think it's a negative thing is just not true."
At school, Cody's personality carries over.
Cody's teacher at Leggee Elementary School in Huntley, Jessica Weglarz, said to her knowledge, he is the only student in the building currently with Down syndrome in a general education classroom.
"He's like the most popular kid in school," Binger said. "Everybody waves to him in the hallways. We are out in public, and people come up to us all the time. People are constantly saying hi to us."
Weglarz said something similar, saying he's always getting high-fives.
One thing Weglarz said she will always remember about Cody is how happy he is, saying he always has a smile on his face and is ready to make people laugh.
Cody's favorite things to do at school is writing and P.E. class -- and going home, Cody said. He wants to own a car wash when he grows up.
"He's very social in the classroom and gets along with all his peers," Weglarz said. "He loves to be a part of everything going on in the classroom."
The video will run from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Central Time and is put on every year by the National Down Syndrome Society, Sagan said. It is paired with the organization's Buddy Walk Program, which has about 150 annual events nationwide and is put on to raise funds to support the Down syndrome community.
Compared to other conditions, Down syndrome is unique in that parents typically will get the diagnosis before the child is born, Binger said. It's also the most common chromosomal condition.
Cody, who said he's excited to be in the video, said Down syndrome is cool and not something that's scary. Sagan agreed.
"Down syndrome isn't something to be feared," Sagan said. "It's really something to be celebrated. When people call our hotline, one of the first things (we'll say) is congratulations, and that's usually the first time they've heard that."