By Erin Garnett and Johnson Dieujuste
The photo shoots for the 2019 Hope Haven Down syndrome calendar recently wrapped up at the end of summer. Kids with Down syndrome from all over Florida come to Jacksonville to be a part of this project. The kids, the parents, and the entire Hope Haven family are excited for its release.
According to the Condition of Education, among the 6.7 million students in the U.S. from 2015 to 2016 who received special education services, 34 percent had a specific learning disability. Hope Haven’s mission is to help “children and families realize their full potential by providing specialized services and individualized educational opportunities.”
Terri George is the director of education and one of the people who work towards this mission.
“When it started out, it was the only children’s hospital in Jacksonville treating children
with polio, then children with tuberculosis, and then it moved into the education realm of diagnosing children with learning disorders,” George said.
The calendar features the happy and heroic faces of children with Down syndrome and shows them in a light that reflects how bright they can truly shine. The calendar’s photographer, Sarah Hedden, volunteers her time and services to help make that possible.
“Last year was superheroes, and that was a really fun one because everyone loves superheroes, and this year we did Hollywood glam,” said Hedden. “And so I just try to think of something creative that will highlight the kids and that they’ll have fun with, because they can take it as far or not-so-far as they want, because the kids are going to be cute regardless.”
There are many families in Jacksonville with children with special needs who would love a place where their child could thrive and the families that are already there are truly appreciative.
“They don’t see our kids as special needs kids or kids with disabilities. They are kids that need an education, that need structure, you know, but also fun,” said Shenera Smith, a Hope Haven parent. “They just get it. They get it, that they’re just kids.”
Hope Haven is just one of many organizations around the community who look to dedicate their time to others.
“I just want to get the word spread. They’re such a blessing to families,” said Hedden.
The calendar sales proceeds always go towards their mission of helping the kids in their
programs reach their full potential.