Last month, I flew 2,500 miles from Baltimore to Sacramento, Calif., to attend my first NDSC Annual Convention... as an exhibitor, representing DSAIA. (Full disclosure: this was only my second convention, and I was so happy to be back.) Exhibiting at NDSC can prove challenging because the attendees - mostly family members and self-advocates - are not DSAIA's typical audience. Yes, there are DSA leaders in attendance, but they can be few and far between. So this year, instead of addressing just our leaders' niche, we took our message to the grassroots to show the abundance of amazing local Down syndrome support in nearly every corner of the country.
NDSC attendees were drawn to our booth by a giant U.S. map generously dotted with the names of DSAIA's 80 member organizations. We encouraged passers-by to find their local DSA on the map, and mark their community with a pin as part of the #PinIt2WinIt challenge (obvious objective: most pins wins). At the end of the exhibition Saturday afternoon, nearly 300 people showed their love for their local DSAs. Cities and communities across the country colorfully erupted with pinheads representing the collective outpouring of support. Two DSAs, Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley Down Syndrome Network, emerged as the leaders of the #PinIt2WinIt challenge, and both organizations each received a comped registration to the DSAIA Leadership Conference in February. Congratulations!
As more and more people visited our booth, I noticed a disturbing trend: the vast number of people who either didn't have a local support group nearby or didn't know their DSA. I didn't see any particular area most affected - the trend traveled more or less across the map. In many cases, we were able to introduce the families to the DSA that served their communities. It felt incredibly satisfying to guide a new parent to their home DSA, which also just happened to be a neighboring exhibitor - instant gratification! DSAIA is also proud to have on its website what we believe to be the most comprehensive listing of local DSAs around the U.S. Because we directly serve the local Down syndrome organizations and their leaders, we want to be known as THE place where people find and gain access to the DSA that serves them and their Down syndrome community. www.dsaia.org/find-a-group
For some map pinners, a local Down syndrome support group was far from "local," showing the ever important and continuous need to foster leadership in communities with little or no local and direct support for Down syndrome. Our leaders have done an amazing job creating and growing local support groups that number in the 300s - it's an extraordinary feat evident by the hundreds of thousands currently served by Down syndrome affiliates. It's all the more reason we must continue our mission to increase the organizational capacities of all our DSAs - from the million dollar clubbers and seasoned associations to the nascent collectives and the passion of one. Because we all have the same mission for Down syndrome - and our vision is to make your mission come true.