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Open Arms on Both Sides of the River

By Jamie Burch

This has been an exciting year for Open Arms. In March we celebrated the one-year anniversary of Portland Open Arms. A great group of families came together, with kids ranging in age from six weeks to six years old. We shared great snacks and mini cupcakes, as we laughed together and shared stories and information. The highlight of the day was an awareness speech by self advocate Eleanor Bailey. Thanks to Abby Braithwaite, Rochelle Ghose and all the families who attend for making this group such a success.

Recently, a handful of families have come together and shown interest in starting an Open Arms in Vancouver, Washington. Parents Lisa and John Rhodes wrote a proposal to the NWDSA board of directors for a mini grant, which was approved, to fund this new playgroup. It is my pleasure to announce Open Arms Vancouver launched their first get together last month on May 15. The families decided evenings would work best and a dozen families shared a few hours of networking, playtime, and the beginning of new supportive friendships within their community. Thank you to Pride for Kids in Vancouver for hosting this event and to Adina and Greg Williams who donated pizza for the kick-off night!

I started Open Arms with Sydney Shook in 2004. We had our first play group at a park in Beaverton, Oregon, just her kids and mine. Each month, more and more families joined us and we gained so much from each other’s companionship, ideas, and experiences. Open Arms gave me the opportunity to see other children with Down syndrome growing, playing and learning, and gave me access to many parents and their perspectives. This invaluable resource helped shape my feeling of normalcy in life and strengthened my confidence as the expert on my child.

When my daughters were younger, Open Arms was my look into the future. Now this play group is a special time for me to reminisce, hold babies, hear and see those first sounds and signs, watch new milestones as they are achieved, be proud of how far we all have come and remember how pleased I am to be part of a community of parents who love their children so much.

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