A Letter From Our Co-CEO: On Building a Flourishing World for Children with Special Needs
Noonday’s vision is to build a flourishing world where children are cherished. March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day, because Down syndrome results when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21 (hence 3/21). In celebration of this special day, today Noonday’s Co-CEO, Travis Wilson, shares about how his son Jack, who has Down syndrome, opened his eyes to the experiences of people with special needs around the world—and inspired a vision for how Noonday could serve and support them.
Here in the Noonday community we have so many Ambassadors, customers, Hostesses, and Ambassadors who are parents to kids with special needs. Today as we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, we’re also celebrating the connections that grow between people in the special needs community. Those connections foster an incredible sense of togetherness—and have made life richer for my family and for our entire Noonday community.
Before having children, my experience interacting with people with special needs was pretty limited. So when my wife Suzanne and I learned that our middle child, Jack, would have Trisomy 21 (aka Down syndrome), there was a huge learning curve. We had a lot of questions about what our lives would look like, and a lot of fear and uncertainty.
Jack with his brother Joseph
I had dreams of pursuing entrepreneurship, but at the time I wondered if it would still be possible to take on the kinds of risks associated with launching a business. Those fears have proven to be unfounded—our lives are very colorful, it’s true, but rather than limit our family’s opportunities, Jack has opened our eyes to opportunities for us to do more.
A World Where All Children are Cherished
One of those opportunities is the chance to bring support and hope to families of children with special needs living in vulnerable communities across the globe. Part of Noonday’s mission is to build a flourishing world where children are cherished—and having Jack as part of my family has opened my eyes to just how vulnerable people with special needs are in less developed communities.
In many places around the world, children with Down syndrome are viewed as a curse or a punishment for the parents’ wrongdoing. In some places, children with special needs are kept in a dark room without the opportunity to fully experience the world. Or they are simply not allowed to exist at all, and in many places the infanticide rates for children with special needs are staggering. For parents of children with special needs in these communities, there are so few resources available to help them and their children thrive.
…And We Are All Connected
Having Jack has opened my eyes to the realities that families with special needs kids face around the world. It has also connected us to those families in a way that is powerful. Through Jack, my wife and I have met so many other families—across socio-economic lines, careers, different walks of life, and even in other countries. Here in Austin, some of our closest friends are parents we met through the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas. And those connections have happened around the world as well.
Travis’ wife Suzanne and son Jack at a school for indigenous children with special needs in Ecuador.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel with my wife and kids on a few occasions to visit Noonday’s Artisan Partners across the globe, and those have been some truly memorable times for our family. One particularly special experience was getting to travel to the rural community in Ecuador where our Partners live and work and discovering that their community is home to the only school in Ecuador focused on educating indigenous children with special needs. At that school, my family got to connect with families who in many ways are completely different than ours, but who we instantly bonded with because of this very important thing we share. It helps us realize that we are really more similar than we may appear to be at first glance.
I’ve seen these kinds of profound connections form in our Ambassador community as well. All of our Ambassadors are part of our community because they believe in our mission of building a flourishing world. But within the community there are even more sources of connection—for example, many of our Ambassadors are moms to kids with special needs. These women have come together within the community to support and encourage one another in some amazing ways. Having those safe spaces to share about the ups and downs of being a parent to a special needs child is a huge benefit. Some Ambassadors have family members with special needs, and others are trained as therapists who serve families.
We have even had the opportunity to foster connections between moms of kids with special needs from different parts of the globe. On an Ambassador trip to Guatemala, one of our Ambassadors, Tesney, met Dolores, an Artisan who has a daughter with special needs—and their connection was instant. Dolores shared, “As a single mother, I have sometimes felt hopeless and alone in my struggles. After meeting Tesney and hearing about her child, I felt so encouraged. She promised to keep working to create more work for us. I felt that she truly meant it because she understands what it’s like to have a child rely on you like my daughter does. After her visit, I went home feeling hope.”
A Vision for the Future
Noonday exists to create opportunity for people in vulnerable places. And when we talk about the vulnerable, it’s hard to think of people who are more vulnerable than those with special needs.
As we look to the future, it’s exciting to think about how we can support the families of these special children. When any family discovers that they will have a child with special needs, there is always a sense of fear and uncertainty about what the future holds. My family has experienced that too. But in these vulnerable communities, there is also a sense of shame that accompanies the birth of a child with special needs. And that shame can weigh heavily on a family who is going it alone.
Part of my vision for Noonday’s future is providing training and education around special needs among our Artisan Partners, who are leaders in their communities. We want to erase the stigma around Down syndrome and other disabilities, to empower communities to rise up in support of these parents.
Another aspect of our vision for Noonday’s future is to simply continue strong with our core mission: to create dignified work for families across the globe. When parents, including parents of kids with special needs, have access to the resources they need, along with a strong community of Artisans supporting them, the effects are transformative.
We recently reconnected with Dolores in Guatemala, and she shared how having a job making jewelry for Noonday allows her to balance caring for her daughter while adding financial stability for the entire family. She struggled to find a job that would be flexible enough to meet her needs, but since she began working as a beader for Noonday’s Partner Business, her life has changed. Dolores said, “Working as an Artisan is the best thing that could have happened to me. This job allows me to work while being home with my daughter, so I don’t have to worry about her health.”
As Noonday continues to grow, we want to play a part in more and more stories like Dolores’. By creating dignified work for these families and working to remove the stigma around special needs, together we can build a flourishing world where all children, no matter their differences, are cherished and cared for.
Meet Jenna Tanner
Jenna is Noonday’s Content Curator and loves to write about fair trade, social justice and Artisans around the world. She also enjoys marathoning her favorite TV shows with her husband, playing intense games of Ticket to Ride, and searching for the best tacos in Austin (let her know if you find them!).