When Tracey Jarrett was born in a small hospital the staff didn’t have much experience with Down syndrome births. And her mother, Laurie, had never even seen a person with Down syndrome.

The doctors warned Tracey’s parents that their baby might not walk or talk, and she might not be able to go to school. “My husband and I experienced tremendous pressure from the doctors to place Tracey in an institution before we become too attached to her,” Laurie said. “Fortunately, some of the nurses told us to take her home and raise her like any other child.”

Following the nurses’ advice, they took their baby girl home. They were determined to “figure it out,” and vowed to learn more about Down syndrome than the professionals they encountered.

When Tracey was just two months old they found the Abilities United infant stimulation program. There, Tracey learned to crawl, sit, feed herself, and walk. “I give much credit to Abilities United for giving me a good start on how to teach Tracey and how to advocate for her in the school district and the community,” Laurie said.

Today, Tracey is 44 years old. She is a graduate of Palo Alto High School and the Transition to Independent Living Program at Taft College near Bakersfield. She was proud to go off to college just like her sisters. She attends a monthly Social Club, Woman’s Club, and swimming lessons through Abilities United and uses the computer lab to send email and do FaceTime calls with her sisters.

Tracey also has a job that she loves, one she found through the Abilities United employment services. She works at a Stanford University dormitory dining hall five days a week. “Tracey loves her work. With the help of her Abilities United job coach, she has done a super job in the dish room and now has been promoted to greet and to swipe the meal cards of the students,” Laurie said.Tracey’s job is an important part of her life, her mom said. “She is a contributing member of our community, gets a pay check which contributes to her self-worth and, she likes having her own spending money.”

Abilities United has been a significant part of Tracey’s and her family’s lives for more than four decades. As Abilities United has evolved from a sheltered environment to one of community inclusion, our neighbors can see that each individual, like Tracey, has abilities. Side by side, we strengthen our community.

This story, written for the March 2017 Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is based on a speech given by Laurie Jarrett at the 2016 Abilities United Authors Luncheon.