It takes courage to change hearts and minds especially after being made fun of, but that is what she is doing one school, one student at a time. She's doing that with "The Grace Effect" a presentation she gives to help students understand things that are often hard to talk about.
Grace is a 22 yr. old inspirational young lady with Down syndrome that is making an emotional impact on hundreds of students in the St. Louis area with her presentations. After being hurt by being made fun of, she decided she wanted to make a difference and with help, put together a presentation she gives to schools about kindness, respect, courage, empathy and one's own worth.
“When the kids were making fun of me, it hurt so badly. I cried all day and couldn’t stop. I felt bad about myself. I died inside and I don’t want that to happen to other people.”
That was when everything changed for Grace. After experiencing bullying in such a personal way, she made a decision to start working toward changing perceptions of people with disabilities.
“I think we all fear what we don’t know,” Grace's mom Linda said. “Grace wanted to break down that fear. She wanted to help people understand what it might be like to have Down syndrome and help people understand differences and abilities.”
She challenges students to look beyond what they see and seek kindness, respect and dignity for all individuals.
“It hurts me to see someone being laughed at, made fun of, or thought of as not capable,” Grace shared. “I want to change that. I want students to understand what it might be like to have a disability and how hard it is sometimes to do things. Maybe they won’t laugh or make fun of someone the next time.
“I don’t want them to be afraid of me or anyone that might look a little different. I want them to see that we are capable and want love, respect and to be included like everyone else. And I want them to see that we have gifts and talents like all people.”
After a few presentations, Grace saw a model with Down syndrome and wondered if she could do the same.
“People with disabilities are not often seen in media and advertising, and I think having that exposure helps break down those preconceived notions and fears,” Linda explained. “Through modeling, [Grace hopes she] can change perceptions and help society to see people with disabilities as people first; with gifts, talents and capabilities. Through exposure, we create change; and through change, we create new opportunities and perceptions.
Grace had 220,000 shares on social media in the first two weeks of going public with her very first photo shoot and message of breaking the glass ceiling, acceptance, and hoping to change out-dated views- striking a chord with people all over the world.
When Grace was born, doctors told her parents, Jeff and Linda, she would be a burden on their family. A genetics counselor told them she would never read or write and even suggested to them that there are “institutions” for Grace if they wanted to pursue that route.
Grace has certainly shattered that prediction, and hopes to continue to shape and inspire a new generation of perspectives, understanding and breaking down stereotypes- giving rise to new perceptions and opportunities. She volunteers an incredible amount of time and energy in preparing for and delivering these presentations.