Melissa Hoerner lives in Champaign with her husband, Todd, and their three children: daughters Paige, 12, and Colleen, 11, and son, Will. 9. When Colleen was born with Down syndrome, Melissa became involved with the Down Syndrome Network in Champaign. She serves on the Down Syndrome Network Board and the Developmental Services Center Board.
Melissa is a junior-high teacher in Champaign, and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she majored in Education and Aviation.
See why we think Melissa is a Chambana Mom to Know!
Q: How does the Down Syndrome Network work with families who have recently given birth to or adopted a child with DS?
Melissa: I was given a 1960s-era book about Down syndrome when I gave birth to my daughter in the year 2000. It was the only book they had on hand about Down syndrome. It talked about institutionalizing children. It also conveyed a message of negativity. It was filled with statements about the things my child would never do. Our happy time of adding to our family became devastating.
Luckily, my husband is very research-oriented and had a stack full of up-to-date information for me the next morning. I never wanted another person to experience such grief at the birth of a child. The Down Syndrome Network provides new parent packets with books and DVDs that give a parent hope, and current information so they will know that they are not alone on this journey.
They have plenty of other people willing to help them along the way. When you meet other people who have gone through what you are going through, it makes you feel things are going to be all right. It gives you hope for a positive future.
Q: How do we teach our kids about the R word?
Melissa: I would approach it the same way I approach the word stupid. It is considered a bad word and can be hurtful to people.
Q: Why do you think people are still resistant to retire the use of this word, and how can we help further the process?
Melissa: I think people are resistant to change in general. Unfortunately, most people don’t think about the hurtful repercussions this word has — unless they have a relative or friend with a disability. I’ve heard people say it is just a word, but words are very powerful.
Q: How excited are you about the Larkin’s Place and the new YMCA opening recently?
Melissa: I am very excited about the new YMCA. I don’t know if people realize that Larkin’s Place is really going to bring our community together in ways that a few years ago, people would never have believed. People of all abilities will be exercising, dancing and taking classes together. It is a simple concept, and yet it has never been done with such flair. We are blessed to have such a supportive community of progressive thinkers. Many of us may need the accommodations as we age. It is a win-win situation!
Q: What have you learned from your daughter who has Down syndrome?
Melissa: I have learned to be much more patient. I have also learned that smiling with your whole face wins people’s hearts. She is easy to love, and she has taught me more than I will ever teach her about life. Colleen lights up a room with her presence. There is so much good in her, and it brings out the good in all of those who know her.