Archive for the ‘Celebrity’ Category

A Loving Tribute to DeOndra Dixon

October 24th, 2020 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

A Loving Tribute to DeOndra Dixon

With the heaviest of hearts and full of sorrow, we are beyond sad to share the news that our beloved Global Ambassador DeOndra Dixon has passed. She is no doubt a true angel looking down on us, just as she was always an angel on earth.

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s highest honor, the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award, was inspired by DeOndra and she was its first recipient. Quincy Jones himself introduced us to DeOndra as one of the most articulate, irrepressible, magnetic people he had ever met.

DeOndra was brought into this world in a loving family who treated her like any other family member. They gave her the gifts of complete acceptance, confidence, and knowledge. They empowered her to graduate with a regular diploma from high school and to take life by storm, which, if you knew DeOndra, she absolutely did. Her parents, ​Annette and George Dixon, brother Jamie Foxx, sister Deidra Dixon, nieces Anelise and Corinne, dear friend Kim, and large extended family are beyond consolable, and we ask that you help us respect their privacy during this difficult time.

For Global, we have lost our talented, intelligent, feisty, beautiful, kind, loving, caring, pure and giving heart, DeOndra Dixon. Our Down syndrome community has lost a beacon of hope, a true leader, and role model whose aim was to always help others. She was a bright light in this world of ours.

DeOndra was our anchor. Her excitement for our Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show each year was palpable, and she often posted about her “secret moves” that she was practicing (and she did keep them secret right up until her stage call).

Over the years our fashion show became a reunion for Global’s “extended Down syndrome family” where DeOndra and her family, Annette & George Dixon, Quincy Jones, John C. McGinley, Amanda Booth, Beverly Johnson, Kyra Phillips & John Roberts, Ronnie & Shamari DeVoe, Matt Dillon, The Salah Foundation, Peter Kudla, Jules Haimovitz, Tomago Collins, Jay Mills, the Gold/Rest/Karsh/Perry, Vollbracht/Winfield, Capuano, Rotella, Sikora, Levin, Fonfara-LaRose, and Snodgrass families, our families, our tribes would come together over a weekend and celebrate life and people with Down syndrome.​

Our extended family loves DeOndra deeply and unreservedly for who she is. Global and DeOndra’s family cannot imagine our fashion show without her, and so through our heartbreak and tears, we will find the words to honor and celebrate her at our upcoming event.

Everyone at the Global Down Syndrome Foundation is in complete shock and full of grief. Please join us in honoring her and share your fondest memories of our beautiful and brilliant DeOndra Dixon. DeOndra is already sorely missed, but she will never be forgotten.

Everything You Need to Know About The Peanut Butter Falcon!

May 20th, 2019 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Click here to buy the film!! Your purchases will support actors with
Down syndrome.

This must-see indie film stars Zack Gottsagen, an accomplished actor who happens to have Down syndrome, multi-talented Shia LaBeouf, and award-winning Dakota Johnson. As Executive Director for The Peanut Butter Falcon, Global President & CEO Michelle Sie Whitten was honored to present Zack with the 2018 Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award alongside his costars at Global’s 10th Anniversary Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show. Below, check out exclusive photos, videos, interviews, and more.

Read the Reviews:

Film Synopsis:

The Peanut Butter Falcon is an adventure story set in the world of a modern Mark Twain that begins when Zak (22), a young man with Down syndrome runs away from a nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler and attending the wrestling school of The Salt Water Redneck. Through circumstances beyond their control Tyler (32), a small time outlaw on the run becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor (28), a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own to join them on their journey. Written by Lucky Treehouse. Check out The Peanut Butter Falcon on IMDB here.

The Cast:

Shia LaBeouf
as Tyler

Dakota Johnson
as Eleanor

Zack Gottsagen
as Zak

John Hawkes
as Duncan

Thomas Haden Church
as The Salt Water Redneck

Bruce Dern
as Carl

Jon Bernthal
as Mark

as Ratboy

The Co-Writers/Directors:

Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz at SXSW


Dakota Johnson introducing her Peanut Butter Falcon co-star as he accepts his Q-Award from Global
Zack Gottsagen accepting his Q-Award at Global’s 10th Anniversary Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show
Shia LaBeouf tells how Zack inspires him at Peanut Butter Falcon Premiere at SXSW Film Festival


Down Syndrome WorldTM Features:

Press Release:

Global partners with local Down syndrome organizations to ensure The Peanut Butter Falcon’s opening weekend was so successful that it triggered nationwide distribution! And the list of screens continues to grow!

Additional Press:

Peanut Butter Falcon
Wows Film Critics

Peanut Butter Falcon Wins
SXSW Audience Award

Peanut Butter Falcon is
Acquired by Roadside

The Peanut Butter Falcon Co-stars: Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, and Dakota Johnson at Global’s 10th Anniversary Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show

The Peanut Butter Falcon: A Must-See Indie Film Starring Zack Gottsagen

May 19th, 2019 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Featured: Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, and his mothers, Shelley and Trish, and Shia LaBeouf at Global’s Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show. Photos: Jared Wilson

From Down Syndrome WorldTM Issue 1 2019

Film wins Audience Award at the prestigious South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, and audiences fall in love with Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Q-Award winner. The key to the movie’s success? Friendship.

ZACK GOTTSAGEN IS NO STRANGER to the spotlight — in fact, he dances right into it. Last year, Gottsagen received the Global Down Syndrome Foundation Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award. After giving a powerful acceptance speech, he literally threw off his jacket and unexpectedly danced down the runway, charming a crowd of over 1,400 guests at Global’s 10th Anniversary Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show.

The accomplished actor, who is 33 years old and happens to have Down syndrome, stars alongside Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson in a new feature-length indie film called The Peanut Butter Falcon. Gottsagen’s breakout role and the film were praised by Variety magazine’s review: “… there’s something so guileless and genuine about Zak (qualities that stem directly from the actor playing him) that he manages to win over both his newfound friend and the audience in the same coup.”

The review goes on to focus on the relationship between LaBeouf’s and Gottsagen’s characters. “… Both [their acting] approaches result in a kind of spontaneous unpredictability, making the characters’ choices feel constantly surprising.” Definitely two thumbs-up!

The Peanut Butter Falcon tells the story of a young man with Down syndrome, Zak (Gottsagen), who escapes from the nursing home where he pines to follow his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Along the way, he meets Tyler (LaBeouf), a troubled traveler with a mysterious past, and Eleanor (Johnson) who is sent from the nursing home with orders to return Zak to the facility. The film also includes award-winning actors Thomas Haden Church, who plays a retired wrestler, and Bruce Dern, Zak’s roommate who helps him escape from the nursing home.

In March, Gottsagen and LaBeouf promoted the film together at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, where The Peanut Butter Falcon won the “Narrative Spotlight” Audience Award.

The filmmakers are hoping to land a distribution deal and release by summer of 2019.


The Peanut Butter Falcon crew at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. Global’s Q-Award winners Colin Farrell and Zack Gottsagen strike a pose with Gottsagen’s moms, Shelley and Trish.


Gottsagen was born with an irresistible charm and drive to change the world. Just ask his mom Shelley Gottsagen.

“Zack has this ability to connect with people from all walks of life,” she says. “He has a real compassion and love for people.”

He was also born with the rare vigor and determination necessary to succeed in the entertainment business.

“Zack tells everyone he meets about his passion for acting , which landed him a lead role in a feature film,” she adds.

“I have wanted to be an actor since I was 3 years old,” Zack says. “I want to show people that no matter who you are, if you follow your heart, you can do whatever you want with your life.”

It was this charisma and determination that led to Gottsagen being cast as one of the first actors with Down syndrome to star as the lead in a full-length feature film. Co-writers and directors, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, explained their inspiration to write The Peanut Butter Falcon.

“Zack told Michael and me that we should write a movie for him to star in,” Nilson says. “We thought it was genius!”

Nilson and Schwartz had worked with Gottsagan on other short films at Zeno Mountain Farm, a nonprofit that hosts inclusive camps in Vermont, California, and Florida for people of all abilities . They were taken not only by his acting ability but his uncanny sense of timing and skill at reading others. But how to capture that on screen?

Schwartz continues, “Being friends with Zack for many years, we tried to create the most authentic experience we could for our audience by writing a character that is really tailored to Zack and his strengths.”

Gottsagen’s character in The Peanut Butter Falcon, “Zak,” is consistent with Zack the actor in elements such as his love of wrestling and caring, determined spirit.

The result is truly a must-see movie. Variety likened it to indie great Little Miss Sunshine and blockbuster hit Forrest Gump, calling it “a feel-good niche indie with its priorities in the right place.”



This article was published in the award-winning Down Syndrome World™ magazine. Become a member to read all the articles and get future issues delivered to your door!

A huge part of any movie’s success is the on-screen chemistry of its actors. The Peanut Butter Falcon has this in spades because the actors became very close while filming. And they have remained close — supporting each other at award ceremonies and keeping in touch frequently through text messages and phone calls.

The bonding happened remarkably fast. Once Nilson and Schwartz finalized the script, the crew had only 30 days to film on the isolated beaches of Savannah, Georgia. Being together every day for a month and working through late hours of the night, the cast truly became a family. Every morning before they started shooting, Gottsagan would give the team a pep talk.

Gottsagen’s mom, Shelley, recalls, “He would call out certain members of the group and thank them for what they did that day. It really gave everyone that extra boost of confidence and created a sense of community.”

For LaBeouf and Gottsagen, their relationship began before the two ever met.

“I saw a video of Zack and thought it would be incredible to work with him. I fell in love with him before I even met him,” LaBeouf explains.

LaBeouf, Johnson, and Gottsagen would eat lunch together every day during filming. Gottsagen consistently ate only chicken. Johnson even named her rescue cat “Chicken” because she said it would make her think of Gottsagan when she was home. While LaBeouf and Gottsagen would watch wrestling together every Monday and Tuesday, Johnson would get mani/pedis with Gottsagen once a week.

“When I met Zack just before we started filming The Peanut Butter Falcon, I was totally bewildered by his purity of heart,” Johnson explains. “He is extremely intelligent, kind, charming, hilarious, and deeply empathetic. He’s the most loving and embracing person I’ve ever met in my life.”



It was important to the film’s stylistic integrity to keep everything as realistic as possible.

“Zack insisted that he do all of his own stunts,” Shelley recalls. “I couldn’t believe that he jumped off the wooden bridge into the water or that he grabbed a fish with his bare hand! But he wanted it to be real.” She explained how this process wouldn’t have been possible without Nilson and Schwartz’s imaginative vision.

“They allowed Zack to have creative control with his scenes, which really made a difference in bringing his character to life.”

“Often, what Zack and Shia came up with was even better than what was on the page,” Nilson says. “Some of the funniest lines and bits in the film, I have to admit, actually come from Zack’s improv!”

Schwartz adds, “With Zack and Shia, we created a space for them to actually live the scenes.”

LaBeouf confirms how special the interaction was. “When Zack and I met, we would just start riffing with each other [while filming],” he says. “Everywhere it went, we’d wind up with gold. We had really deep conversations that I could only have with Zack.”

Gottsagen agrees. “We practiced our lines, but we were able to make it real, and that’s what it’s all about.”

During red carpet interviews at SXSW, the whole cast and crew spoke to the understanding, patience, and appreciation they developed for people with Down syndrome by working with and learning from Gottsagen.

Schwartz summed it up. “There’s a magic that Zack brings to every scene. With him, he’s not just saying his lines, he’s actually feeling the moment.”



Gottsagen caught Global’s attention when a Global Ambassador, Chase Turner Perry, identified a family connection to a producer of The Peanut Butter Falcon.

“We were actually a little nervous as we can’t support a film, even a great film, if the messaging is counter to our advocacy work,” says Michelle Sie Whitten, President and CEO of Global. “So we organized a screening in Denver last May, and I was blown away by how excellent the film is, how it pulls you in, and how the film makes important societal statements that the Down syndrome community would be proud of.”

After spending a good amount of time with Gottsagen, Whitten and her team made the decision to honor Gottsagen with Global’s 2018 Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award at their 10th Anniversary Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show, the largest fundraiser for people with Down syndrome in the world.

“Zack is a role model and inspiration not just for people with Down syndrome, but for all of us,” says Whitten.

To Whitten’s surprise, The Peanut Butter Falcon family immediately rallied, and LaBeouf, Johnson, Nilson, Schwartz, and other crew members descended upon Denver to support Gottsagen. LaBeouf and Johnson both introduced Gottsagen and helped bestow the Global award.

Now Global is part of the family supporting Gottsagen and traveled to Austin to cover him and The Peanut Butter Falcon at SXSW. Johnson was not able to attend but sent her best wishes to Gottsagen via text. LaBeouf and Gottsagen walked the red carpet together, laughing, joking, and posing for photos.
During the screening, the audience laughed and cried. When the credits started to roll, there was a standing ovation. At the end of the Q&A that followed, Gottsagen took the microphone.

“I make Shia’s life better every day,” he told the SXSW audience. LaBeouf laughed and nodded in agreement. The sincere and unique friendship, both on and off the screen, is undeniable.

Like this article? Join Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Membership program today to receive 4 issues of the quarterly award-winning publication, plus access to 4 seasonal educational Webinar Series, and eligibility to apply for Global’s Employment and Educational Grants.
Register today at!

GLOBAL’s Dare to Play Tennis Aces It

November 2nd, 2017 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Former No. 1 Seed And Eight-Time Grand Slam® Winner Mats Wilander Has A Special Bond With The Participants At The Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Dare To Play Tennis Camp In Denver.


This article was published in the award-winning Down Syndrome World™ magazine. Become a member to read all the articles and get future issues delivered to your door!

With the Help of The Daniels Fund, the University of Denver, and other generous donors, GLOBAL was able to establish the Dare to Play Tennis Camp in 2016. The camp is part of GLOBAL’s health and wellness efforts that link love of sport to better overall health.

The camp is co-organized by the Gates Tennis Center, where eight coaches are trained by GLOBAL staff. Training includes people-first language, consistency of tennis terms, and appropriate physical boundaries (e.g. circles of relationships).

“The participants have a ball, no pun intended!” said Michelle Sie Whitten, President and CEO of GLOBAL. “They are eager to get to the front of the line and hit that forehand or backhand, and you can see the amazing progress.”


When it comes to tennis, few players have a resume quite as impressive as Wilander’s — a resume that includes eight Grand Slam® championships and 739 matches won. Born and raised in Sweden, Wilander learned to play tennis on a parking lot that had been converted into a tennis court. By 1982, when he was just 17 years old, Wilander became the youngest male tennis player at the time to win the French Open. He went on to win five major singles championships by age 20, and by 1988, he was ranked No. 1 in the world.

After largely retiring as a competitive athlete in 1997, Wilander coached Sweden’s Davis Cup team, which he belonged to from 1981 to 1990. In 2002, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Nowadays, he runs a program called Wilander On Wheels (WOW) with Cameron Lickle, who was ranked No. 1 on the U.S. Naval Academy’s tennis team and served as its captain in 2002 and 2003. The pair travels around the United States providing clinics and lessons for tennis enthusiasts.

Wilander and Lickle usually work with very advanced players, but they were attracted to the idea of teaching participants who are differently-abled and, in the end, became inspired supporters themselves.

“All someone has to do is to spend one minute with one person with Down syndrome to understand how simply wonderful they are!” Wilander said. “It is terrible to think that there is discrimination against this population in research, medical care, and education. Whatever we can do to help the cause, we here at WOW are in!”


Wilander knows personally that children who need modifications can live happy, fulfilling lives. His son, Erik, has a r are genetic connective tissue disorder called Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). Affecting just one out of every 20,000 births in the United States, EB leads to fragile skin that blisters and tears from minor friction or trauma.

To help his son, Wilander and his wife, Sonya, decided to move their family of six from Connecticut to Sun Valley, Idaho, where the altitude and lack of humidity helps keep Erik’s skin from blistering. As a result, Erik has been able to ski, golf, and camp, just as typical teenagers do.

Wilander established the MW Foundation ( to bring attention to EB, but he also uses the foundation as a platform for raising awareness about issues affecting people with a variety of conditions.

“Down syndrome is much more frequent than EB, but it appears the community still has the har dest battle to fight when so man y people are unaware of the terrible disparity of funding for Down syndrome research,” he said. “We are grateful for everything GLOBAL does and for allowing us to help bring awareness to this important cause.”


Dare to Play Tennis lasts for six weeks, and participants of all ages attend twice a week. The camp ends with an Exhibition D ay match where campers put everything they’ve learned to use, playing against each other as well as Wilander and Lickle.

While learning valuable skills is certainly a benefit, the camp is also about having fun. Few can attest to that quite like Lillian, a 32-year-old self-advocate from Denver who has attended for the past two years and has a special bond with Wilander.

“Tennis is a good exercise,” Lillian said in her husky commanding voice. “It takes a lot of mental focus and physical energy. I like to participate in Dare to Play Tennis to have fun and work on my game.”

Lillian explains how she even managed to get the better of Wilander a time or two.

“It was great,” Lillian said. “I surprised Mats with my strategies by attacking his left hand.”

Kept on his toes by the campers, Wilander enjoys his time on the courts as much as they do.

“I participate in a lot of events . I attend Wimbledon, the US Open, and many other exciting events, but being part of GLOBAL’s camp and sharing tennis with these campers is truly one of the biggest highlights of my year,” Wilander said. “All the participants in GLOBAL’s Dare to Play Tennis Camp clearly love all of their fellow campers and coaches and have such a robust engagement with life. If everyone shared their same zest for life, what a better, different world we might live in!”


“Working with professionals like [Mats] Wilander and [Cameron] Lickle are definitely a perk of being on staff at GLOBAL,” said Evan Winebarger, Senior Manager of Health & Wellness Programs at the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. “Not just because they are celebrities, but because they are amazing people who truly get it and allow the focus to be our participants.”

The admiration is clearly mutual.

“GLOBAL is an organization doing great things with great leadership who are passionate about their cause,” Wilander said after his exhibition match. “All of us are one chromosome or DNA strand away from being differently-abled. It is important to remember that.”

“I participate in a lot of events. I attend Wimbledon, the US Open, and many other exciting events, but being part of GLOBAL’s camp and sharing tennis with these campers is truly one of the biggest highlights of my year!” — Mats Wilander, eight-time Grand Slam® champion, former world No. 1 tennis player, and instructor at Global’s Dare to Play

This article was published in the award-winning Down Syndrome World™ magazine. Become a member to read the whole magazine and get future magazines delivered to your door!  

Like this article? Join Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Membership program today to receive 4 issues of the quarterly award-winning publication, plus access to 4 seasonal educational Webinar Series, and eligibility to apply for GLOBAL’s Employment and Educational Grants.
Register today at!

2017 Be Beautiful Be Yourself Press Release

October 24th, 2017 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Eva Longoria, Jamie Foxx, Quincy Jones, Madeline Stuart and Amanda Booth Join Forces With Global Down Syndrome Foundation and its Impressive Fashion Show Celebrity Lineup

During Down Syndrome Awareness Month celebrities vow to raise awareness for life-changing research in support of the foundation’s annual fundraiser next month in Denver

DENVER – Today the Global Down Syndrome Foundation announced its full celebrity lineup for this year’s 9th annual Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show, as well as its Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award (Q Award) winners. The fashion show is the single largest fundraiser benefiting people with Down syndrome, and will be held on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, 1550 Court Place in Denver.

Models – including Marcus Sikora, 2017 Global Ambassador, Madeline Stuart, Australian Model and 2017 Q Award Winner, and DeOndra Dixon, past Global Ambassador and Q Award Winner – will be joined on the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show runway by celebrities including: Eva Longoria, Award-winning Actress, Producer, Director, Entrepreneur and 2017 Q Award winner; Jamie Foxx, Oscar Winning Actor, Grammy Winning Musician, and Comedian; Quincy Jones, 27-time Grammy Award Winning Musician, Music Icon, Entertainment Mogul, Entrepreneur and Humanitarian; Marisa Tomei, Oscar Winning Actress; Joe Manganiello, Star of True Blood and Magic Mike; Denis O’Hare, Tony Award Winning Actor and Star of True Blood; John C. McGinley, Award-winning Actor, and Global Board Member; and Amanda Booth, Actress and Model.

“This is a special year for Global as we have had two major scientific breakthroughs that are a direct result of the donations we have raised at our fashion show in past years,” said Global Down Syndrome Foundation President, CEO and Co-Founder, Michelle Sie Whitten. “We are thrilled and grateful for our celebrity supporters this year, but we are especially proud to have Quincy Jones attend to support Global and present his namesake award. It’s going to be a special evening for everyone who attends and donates their time, talent and treasure as they are the people helping us change the world for good.”

Over the past 8 years, the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show has raised more than $14 million for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation to support life-changing and life-saving research, medical care, education and advocacy. Specifically, the foundation has supported world-class multi-disciplinary medical care to more than 1,300 children with Down syndrome from 28 states and seven countries. The funding has also helped to establish the first academic home for revolutionary Down syndrome research, with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and autoimmune disorders.

Various levels of tickets, table sponsorships, and model sponsorships are available, including VIP levels at

Game On – With Super Bowl Champion Ed McCaffrey

September 1st, 2017 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Taking the field is a momentous, confidence-building event for any young athlete. Super bowl champion and former Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey is dedicated to ensuring children and young adults with down syndrome don’t miss out.


This article was published in the award-winning Down Syndrome World™ magazine. Become a member to read all the articles and get future issues delivered to your door!

When Global Down Syndrome Foundation President and CEO Michelle Sie Whitten first met McCaffrey, there must have been an electric force field around them. The two high-energy, get-thingsdone people started discussing their passion for equality and fighting discrimination. The conversation turned to making Colorado the best place for people with Down syndrome to live and resulted in Global establishing the Dare to Play Football Camp with Ed McCaffrey as its featured coach.

“I’ve played football my whole life, and I’ve been coaching camps for 10 years,” McCaffrey said. “When I found out from Michelle that there aren’t many opportunities for kids with Down syndrome to play team sports, specifically football, we got together and decided, ‘Let’s make a football camp for them.’ They’re having fun, they’re making friends — they’re playing football for the same reasons we all started playing football.”


Global’s Dare to Play Football Camp lets participants learn from the best, including McCaffrey, who’s no ordinary instructor. The 13-season NFL all-star has played with the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and Denver Broncos. A three-time Super Bowl champion, McCaffrey is one of only 31 NFL pla yers to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. He’s been a cornerstone of Global’s Dare to Play Football Camp every year since it started in 2010.

“I look forward to it every year,” McCaffrey said.

“What a blessing. Global organizes such a great opportunity for so many individuals with Down syndrome to play the great game of football, while also spreading awareness in the community about all the wonderful things individuals with Down syndrome can do. We’re working to dispel a lot of negative stereotypes.”

Each year, the camp attracts other professional volunteer coaches. In addition to McCaffrey, the star studded 2017 roster included Brandon Stokley, Tyler Polumbus, Shaquil Barrett, and Todd Davis, who have eight Super Bowl rings between them. Past pros include Ben Garland, Danny Trevathan, Chris Kuper, Britton Colquitt, Orlando Franklin, Malik Jackson, Ben Hamilton, Jack Del Rio, Brian Dawkins, and Joel Dreessen, who had nothing but praise for McCaffrey’s coaching and their experience at the event. “I’m blown away by it,” Dreessen told The Denver Post. “Ed McCaffrey was one of my heroes growing up, too. I always wanted to be just like him. So, to see him have his hand in something that gives back like this, it gives me more reason to really like it.” Global’s Dare to Play Football Camp is held at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and each participant is paired with a high school football player, or “Pal,” for camp practices and the big game day. The Denver Broncos Cheerleaders are equally important partners for Global’s Dare to Cheer Program, which runs simultaneously with the football camp.

The big game day has a dramatic opening, with the Denver Broncos Thunderstorm skydivers landing on the field, and it goes on to feature two scrimmages, lots of cheerleading, cheering from hundreds of fans, and the Denver Broncos mascot, Miles.

“It’s the smiles on the campers’ faces when they catch a ball or score a touchdown,” McCaffrey said, when asked about his favorite moments from the camps. “When they pick their teammate up who has fallen down, when they show compassion and joy and enthusiasm, it’s just that look that you see from them.”

“Ed makes fun of me because I don’t know a lot about football or who the celebrity coaches are,” Whitten said. “But it is obvious even to me what an impact this has on our self-advocates . The one thing that took me aback w as several of the fathers in par ticular getting teary eyed because they thought their sons with Down syndrome would never play football. I’m so glad w e turned that stereotype on its head!”


Studies have shown that physical activity builds self-esteem and boosts feelings of well-being, and so do connections.

“My favorite part is the practice time with my buddies and Pal and the game day,” said self-advocate Ben.

“I truly enjoyed helping coach the campers and getting to know them,” said Tanner, a Valor Christian Pal. “It was an amazing experience — one I will never forget. I can’t wait for next year!”

Twenty-one-year-old Maya, who has attended every Global Dare to Cheer Camp since 2010, is another shining example of the confidence physical activity offers. “My favorite part is the football team!” she shared. “What I like most about Dare to Cheer is my friends. My favorite cheer is ‘Blue and White, Fight Team Fight’.”

When asked who her favorite Bronco is, there was no hesitation. “Ed McCaffrey!”


For Ed McCaffrey, sports and giving back is a family affair. His wife, Lisa, was a soccer star at Stanford University, and their four sons are following in dad’s footsteps. Max is a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers. This fall, Christian began his first season with the Carolina Panthers, and Dylan began playing in the Big 10 as a University of Michigan Wolverine. Luke, the youngest, still plays quarterback, receiver, and defensive back for Valor Christian but has received scholarship offers from eight college football heavyweights, including Michigan, where his brother plays, and The Ohio State University.

The four siblings have been Pals for Global’s football camps every year, and last year, Christian flew back from Stanford to help coach. Christian shared with ESPN and Down Syndrome World™ magazine how the camp has enriched his life and helped him create a lifelong friendship with camper Dusty, who happens to have Down syndrome (these stories are available at The key with the McCaffreys is that they don’t treat people with Down syndrome any differently, and they believe deeply in Ed McCaffrey’s wisdom.

“Kids with Down syndrome want to play sports for the same reasons everyone else does,” he said. “They want to have fun, they want to make friends, and they want to be part of a team.


Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Health and Wellness Programs include the Dare to Play Football Camps, the Dare to Cheer Camps, the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Dance Class, the Dare to Play Soccer Camp, and the Dare to Play Tennis Camp. Nearly 50 percent of the participants are on full or partial scholarships. The programs provide a great sports experience and allow Global an opportunity to provide information about life-changing medical care and research and connect families with resources. Nearly 100 percent of children and young adults involved in Global’s Health and Wellness Programs have received medical services at Global’s affiliate, the Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Like this article? Join Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Membership program today to receive 4 issues of the quarterly award-winning publication, plus access to 4 seasonal educational Webinar Series, and eligibility to apply for Global’s Employment and Educational Grants.
Register today at!

A Global Bromance: J.R. Smith and Brad Hennefer

September 15th, 2016 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

NBA Champion J.R. Smith and Global awardee Brad Hennefer’s longtime friendship is detailed in the Fall issue of Down Syndrome World™ magazine. The two athletes share how they inspire each other and how the public’s view of them isn’t always the most accurate.

Empire Star Donates Chicago Set Visit to Support Global

February 15th, 2016 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Inspired by the joyful and giving atmosphere of Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show, Terrence Howard made a generous and spontaneous donation to the live auction of a visit to the Chicago set of his hit FOX show, Empire. Mr. Howard attended the event as a celebrity escort for DeOndra Dixon, Jamie Foxx’s sister and former Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award recipient.


The lucky winning bidder, Joe Lembeck, graciously gave the visit to his friend Staci Mantegazza and her daughter. The women enjoyed an incredible day on location in Chicago, and raved about their “once in a lifetime experience” saying, “It was awesome!” The women were given a bag of Empire gifts and were thrilled and surprised to be cast as extras in an episode of season 3.

Last year’s fashion show garnered a record-breaking $2 million in donations to support Global’s initiatives of research, medical care, education and advocacy for people with Down syndrome.

Join us this year on November 12th at the 2016 Be Beautiful Be Yourself fashion show in Denver, Colorado and help Global set a new record!



Megan Bomgaars Living Life Without Limits

January 19th, 2016 by Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Megan Bomgaars is a Global representative, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and star of A&E®‘s acclaimed new series Born This Way. She took a break from her very busy schedule to meet up with Global and Denver Nugget’s star Kenneth Faried to spend the afternoon shooting photos for the upcoming front cover of Global’s award winning magazine Down Syndrome World™.

To say that Megan has been busy is something of an understatement.
She’s been a model, working the runway at not one but two of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Shows, the largest fundraisers in the country for Down syndrome. She filmed the empowering and hugely popular “Don’t Limit Me” video that has received widespread praise. She gave a keynote speech at last year’s National Down Syndrome Congress Convention. She’s an artist and businesswoman, selling hand-dyed, one-of-a-kind scarves and tote bags from her website, She also represents Global as a tireless self-advocate for people with Down syndrome, prompting an invitation to the White House this past summer to First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2015 Beating the Odds Summit. But Megan insists that she’s a “very typical 22-year-old girl.”

Megan’s dream is to be a filmmaker and a producer.
Megan also dreams of being independent, living on her own, getting married, and having a baby. Although Megan and her mother Kris are nearly inseparable (Megan calls her mother her “Dream Maker”), Megan’s dream of becoming a parent symbolizes the type of issues that families of people with Down syndrome live with every day.

In the meantime, it looks like Megan will be keeping busy – A&E® just renewed Born This Way for a second season!

Check out Megan Bomgaars in the winter 2016 issue of Down Syndrome World™, available to Global Down Syndrome Foundation members. To become a member, go to