Henderson teacher goes extra miles to fund Down Syndrome research

Caitlin Shanley, a speech language pathologist at the Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester, embarked on a meandering, 21-mile run across the city on March 21. The 21-mile figure was a nod to the date — World Down Syndrome Day— chosen to symbolize the trisomy of the 21st chromosome, the irregularity that causes Down syndrome. 

Shanley said she was inspired to raise funds and awareness for World Down Syndrome Day by her experience working with students with disabilities and as a tribute to a family member with Down’s.

“When I was a child, we found a lost family member of ours who had been living in an institution with Downs...he’s since joined our lives,” she explained. “As a kid I knew there was something different about him, but also realized how much he lit up our world. A lot of advances have come in recent years with our acceptance of others, but there’s still so much more that people don’t realize people with Down’s are capable of.”

As Shanley’s idea for the run began to take shape in December, she chose the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC) as the organization she would be running to support. The organization serves kids with Down syndrome as well as adults, a key consideration for Shanley, who knows that oftentimes resources are lacking for people with disabilities as they age out of school and youth programs. 

“They rely heavily each year on the Boston Marathon, which was cancelled, and they’re not federally funded so they’re not getting the grants they need,” noted Shanley.

After initially setting a goal of $1000, Shanley was stunned as donations rolled in from across the neighborhood, with fundraising efforts eventually totalling $8,770. 

Along the way, Shanley organized the route of the run to stop by the homes of seven of her students with Down syndrome, several of whom offered their support with identical “Ms. Shanley” t-shirts. 

“It was so special for me that these families opened up their hearts to me on that day, a day special to them, and it was also lovely to see how the community embraced them and to see all the different teachers that showed up along the course,” said Shanley. “The MDSC motto for this year is “Stronger Together,” and our school’s motto is “Better Together,” and that’s what I truly felt--yes I was running the miles, but I couldn’t have done it without those families and everyone coming together for a great cause.”

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