HOWLAND - Michele Jones said she and her husband, Ken, would not have changed anything had they known in advance that their daughter, Lauren, would be born with Down syndrome.
Jones described Lauren as a gift that opened doors to her family that the Howland woman never never knew existed.
"We approached raising her the same as we did our two sons," Jones said. "We've always strived to give all of our children our best, the best possible lives we can give them."
Part of giving Lauren her best has involved gathering information about Down syndrome and creating resources to share with other parents in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. It's that tenacity, among other characteristics, that prompted friend and community member Barb Rosenblum to initiate a letter-writing campaign on Jones' behalf to nominate her as a Community Star.
Community Star is a program sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull 100 that singles out individuals for their civic efforts and recognizes for them for their special acts of charity or heroism.
"She's just a very special person," Rosenblum said of Jones. "Not only has she put everything into raising her own children, but she also does what she can to help other families who are raising children with Down syndrome, and she has raised awareness about it. She's done a lot to change how many people see Down syndrome, and that says a lot about who she is."
Sheryl Baker wrote about the "many fundraisers and events" Jones has spearheaded to improve the quality of life for handicapped individuals and their families.
Sandy Chadwick highlighted Jones' accomplishment in bringing the "Face of Down Syndrome" traveling display to Eastwood Mall in Niles.
Cathy Knopp noted Jones has a strong history of being involved in community organizations and activities.
COMMUNITY:?Howland resident for 13 years
Activities / memberships: Down Syndrome Association of the Valley, co-founder, president; DSAV Buddy Walk of the Valley, chair; Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley, parent adviser and mentor; Junior League of Youngstown, sustaining member; Trumbull County Medical Society Alliance, member, past vice president; Children's Rainbow Cooperative Preschool, past board member; Howland Local Schools PTO, chair of various committees; Howland Community Scholarships committee, past member; Blessed Sacrament Parish, baptismal preparation
"She doesn't think she deserves this," Rosenblum said. "But she really does. She is a very special person who gives so much of herself to help not only her own family but the entire community. She has done so much for individuals with Down syndrome and their families, and beyond. She is a Community Star."
After graduating from The Ohio State University, Jones' pursued a career as a pharmacist. However, life took a turn for Jones after Lauren was born in 2004.
Jones said she took to learning as much about Down syndrome as she could. Realizing that there was a lack of resources available, she said she started gathering her own.
In 2007 she co-founded the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley, a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization that provides support, resources, education and opportunities for those with Down syndrome and their families.
In 2008, she brought the annual Buddy Walk, which was developed by the National Down Syndrome Society in 1995, to the Mahoning Valley.
The local association opened DSAV Center for Success in Boardman on Oct. 22, 2009. The site serves as the association's main office while providing space for activities, resources, educational programs, lectures, support and community awareness. Membership is free.
"When we were looking for information and resources in this area, we realized there weren't any," Jones said. "As we gathered more information, we realized that there was a real need here."
The association also focuses on establishing awareness of Down syndrome, providing advocacy and support for families, and promoting acceptance of individuals with Down syndrome.
"We strive to increase an awareness of the value of people, all people, including those with differences," Jones said.