By Barb Arland-Fye
Two days before Night to Shine in Davenport — a glamorous prom for persons with special needs — emails and Facebook posts appeared about Gerber’s spokesbaby for 2018, a toddler with Down syndrome.
Pro-life advocacy groups were beside themselves with joy over the selection of 18-month-old Lucas Warren of Dalton, Ga., whose winsome smile captivated judges of the Gerber Baby Photo Search. They chose Lucas from among more than 140,000 entries. The little boy will be featured on the early childhood nutrition company’s social media channels throughout the year and his family will receive $50,000, according to a Feb. 7 news release.
“Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby and this year, Lucas in the perfect fit,” Bill Partyka, the company’s President and CEO, said in the news release.
“… We are all special in the eyes of God, and Lucas is the perfect choice for a company that celebrates providing for babies and their nutrition,” American Life League President Judie Brown said in a statement.
The news delighted me, too, as the mother of an adult son with autism committed to working for his inclusion in the mainstream. Long before Colin was born, my cousin Carol, who has physical and intellectual disabilities, was institutionalized. That had a profound impact on me as a young girl trying to understand why Carol, close to my age, couldn’t stay at home with her mom and dad and two brothers.
In recent years, our society has begun to lift up people with special needs through events like Night to Shine, cheerleading clinics and beauty pageants, through the L’Arche community and, now, through the Gerber Baby Photo Search.
Other encouraging examples:
• Catholic school educators in the Davenport Diocese are committed to moving forward in reaching out to families of students with disabilities. They participated in an exceptional learners’ conference at the start of the current school year in Davenport. Lee Morrison, diocesan superintendent of schools, and Anna Schott, a school counselor at JFK Catholic School in Davenport, earlier attended a national conference on exceptional learners.
“Our faith is the anchor of our communities and who is more deserving of being immersed in a Christ-centered education than those children with the greatest needs? Schott said in an interview after the conference. “Jesus calls us to tend to the marginalized and struggling. Not only do the students with exceptional needs benefit when they have a place in our community, all members of our community benefit.”
• Special Faith Saturdays, led by retired special education teachers Nancy Shannon and Jane Bergendahl, offers faith formation and socialization for people with special needs ages 16 and up. Classes are held monthly during the school year at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove. Participants assist with the Saturday Evening Mass that follows class. My son Colin has had the privilege of serving as a lector at the Mass.
Raising a child with special needs is challenging, but God helps us to unfold the gift with each passing year. Lucas’ mom sees the gift early on.
“We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that with acceptance and support, individuals with special needs have the potential to change the world — just like our Lucas!”
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)