In 2015 Community Living Kincardine and District’s Infant & Child Development Program started a “support group” for parents raising babies who have Down syndrome. At the time, there were four babies in the area who had been born with ‘designer genes’ and we thought getting the parents together to talk, navigate the journey, and discuss the future would be a good idea.
Little did we know that it would become much more than a support group, it would become an active community of dynamic parent advocates ready to tackle conversations about inclusion and awareness in the area. These parents, and their now-busy kindergarteners, have brought a new level of disability education to the Kincardine area, showing people that we are all more alike than we are different, and that everybody ultimately wants the same things in life. This group has also added lots of smiles and laughter to the lives of those they have touched.
This group, affectionately called the “Homies with Extra Chromies”, has now grown to support families from other nearby communities and is always welcoming new parents who are celebrating the journey of raising a child with Down syndrome. In an effort to reach youngsters growing up in Kincardine who may not have knowledge and experience with people who have disabilities, the Homies with Extra Chromies have gone and visited many local schools to talk about Down syndrome, inclusion, anti-bullying, treating others the way you would like to be treated, and seeing beyond labels and limitations. The babies were very popular guests for speaking engagements!
When looking for further ways to educate youngsters in the area, the Infant & Child Development Program and the Homies parents began looking at children’s books on the topic. When they couldn’t find a picture book that quite used the wording they wanted, and didn’t quite share the message they were looking for, they decided to go ahead and write their own book!
It definitely proved to be a learning experience, and quite the labour of love. The original four families in the group, the McIvers, the Lawrences, the Grahams and the Purdons, along with the Infant & Child Development Coordinator, Jenny Raspberry, shared ideas back and forth, wording and re-wording pages until it expressed the ideas they were looking for. Jenny then reached out to an old-friend from the Kincardine area who had always been a talented artist. Sarah Diebel, now living in Toronto, donated her time and talent to illustrate the book and was thrilled to be asked to be a part of the project.
Published by Tellwell books, Meet Will and Jake: Best Buds Forever tells the story of friendship between two boys, one who has Down syndrome, and one who does not. “Will and Jake are best buds. They have a lot of fun together, and like a lot of the same things. They are different in some ways though. Jake was born with an extra chromosome. This means he has Down syndrome, and he learns some things differently. That's okay though, Will doesn't mind and he appreciates what Jake brings to their friendship. This story explains a bit about Down syndrome to young readers, and shares the key message that we are all more alike than we are different and the world is a better place when we are all included. Meet Will and Jake shows that if you take the chance to get to know somebody for who they are, you might just gain a wonderful friend.”
Now, one year after the official book launch the Homies’ families cannot believe how far the book has taken them. Radio and TV interviews, newspaper stories, and book reading across Bruce County have all allowed them to share the message of inclusion and Down syndrome advocacy. All schools in Kincardine and Ripley, along with a Teeswater school, have hosted visitors from the Homies group, listened to the story and asked some powerful questions on their path to destigmatizing disability. A few local daycares and libraries have also hosted the Homies, allowing the story to reach even more young children and families. Jenny and the parents feel empowered knowing that most young people in our community are at least aware of the book and its message, and that families now have some language and context to discuss Down syndrome and inclusion together.
We are proud to share that our book has sold almost 700 copies across Canada, the US and as far away as Australia and the UK. It is available to order on many online platforms including amazon, Chapters Indigo and more! This year the focus will be getting more online attention, educating about the book and its important message on facebook and blogs. We ask all our fans to share the word with friends and leave reviews online so others can hear about this great opportunity to add inclusive materials to their home libraries. Christmas is coming and giving ‘Meet Will and Jake, Best Buds Forever’ as a gift is a wonderful way to help children in our lives foster more inclusive friendships.
The book is available at Community Living’s main office at 286 Lambton Street, Kincardine as well as at the following websites:
Do you have a photo of yourself or your family reading about the fabulous friendship of Will and Jake? Snap a photo and send it to our social media team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a flashback to last year’s CTV interview for anybody who missed it!