Success Stories

Submit Your Success Story

We want to hear about your employment or entrepreneurial success story! NDSS is featuring stories from across the country from the perspective of employees and entrepreneurs with Down syndrome. Please complete the form below and submit a picture of a self-advocate in action! 

Submit Your Success Story

Michael Holton posing in front of his classroom

Michael Holton, Jr.

My name is Michael Holton, Jr. I graduated from South Effingham High School in 2013. I completed Project Search, which is a school-to-work program, in 2014. My first job was at our local hospital where I worked for 7 years in laundry. I've now in my second year of working at South Effingham Elementary School. I work in the Technology classroom as Instructional Support. This is the same elementary school that I attended and I get to work with my former kindergarten teacher, Kellie Lee, who is now the Technology teacher. Besides working in the Technology classroom, I help greet the car riders in the mornings, I take up attendance records, I help out in the library sometimes and I've even been given the opportunity in a fifth-grade classroom to present a powerpoint lesson. As far as we know, I'm the first staff member with Down syndrome to work directly with students in a classroom in the state of Georgia. I absolutely love my job!

Man with Down syndrome standing in Cleveland Browns stadium

Alex Kowalski

I have been working for the Cleveland Browns since 2017 as a greeter. I love my job and meeting the fans. I like to get them excited about the game and cheer on my favorite football team, the Browns. My favorite thing about working for the Browns is meeting new people. I also like to pass out posters to the fans as they come in. I also work at Longhorn Steakhouse. I love my job there too! I help them out by preparing all the silverware for the lunch and dinner guests. My favorite part is meeting new people and greeting the regular customers who come in.

Isabelle smiling at the camera

Isabelle Woloson

Isabelle Woloson was the first woman with Down syndrome to graduate from college in Colorado. After receiving a degree in Communications from the University of Northern Colorado, she went on to become a certified life coach. She currently serves people with disabilities and their families. To learn more and to receive a free introductory session, please visit

David Egan headshot

David Egan

Employment is a defining aspect of adult life. It connects us to full participation and inclusion in our communities; it fosters a sense of self-worth, opens opportunities for social growth, and leads to greater independence. Employing individuals with intellectual disabilities is a smart business decision and a social responsibility as I told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in 2011, during the Committee Hearing on Improving Employment Opportunities for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

I have surprised my family and many others over the past thirty nine years of my life. When I was born, I don’t think that my parents imagined me as an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. I just completed a one- year fellowship as a Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Public Policy Fellow, first on Capitol Hill with the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security and then with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). It is an honor and a privilege to have been selected as the first person with an intellectual disability to serve in this position.

My employment story started early in my life, and it took many years to prepare. I believe that inclusion starts at home. In my family, I was taught that work is part of life. Early on, I helped with family chores, and I was not excused because of my disability. Later on, I learned more about work in high school with an internship at the National Wild Life Federation and at the Davis Career Center. In 1996, I got my first internship at Booz Allen Hamilton through the “Bridges Program” sponsored by the Marriott Foundation, which encourages employers to hire interns with an intellectual disability so they can explore job opportunities.

Once my internship ended, I was hired as an employee and have worked in the distribution center for almost 20 years. My first supervisor was great; she took it upon herself to teach me everything there was to know about being a clerk. She believed in me and she wanted me to succeed as a staff employee. At work, I am treated like other employees. The company cares about my personal and professional development. I am “one of them and not one among them.”. I am empowered to contribute.

Promoting careers for people like me is very important and worth our time and attention. We need to move away from low expectations and start hiring people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. Why, in 2016, aren’t there more integrated competitive employment opportunities for people like me?

I am proud to have a job and I am thankful that all of my employers, Booz Allen Hamilton, CBRE, and currently SourceAmerica, pay me competitive wages, give me full benefits, and include me on the team. I moved from a clerk position to a career of advocacy. Having Down syndrome does not define me as a person. People with disabilities want to be accepted and given an opportunity to succeed like anyone else. People with disabilities are citizens that matter. We are ready and able to work. I pay taxes, I vote, and I matter. Employment is about dignity and inclusion.

Tavrick Raghavan headshot
Intern & Tattoo Apprentice

Tavrick Raghavan

Hello, my name is Tavrick. I am going to tell you about my many paid jobs and internships.

I have been paid as an extra in a movie and to model. I have also been paid to work in a production center to make windows for an aircraft company.

I had the opportunity to intern at a tattoo parlor, which is my dream job, and I have interned at a PT therapy clinic. I really liked my two bosses and my coworkers at both of my internships.

I am now in an internship program called Project Search, in this program, I rotate through 3 different internships set up for me by the program. I had to be tested to see if I could be trained to do the jobs. I was able to give them ideas of what type of jobs I was interested in trying out. They work with my Life Skills program to make sure I am prepared and I also have a job coach to help with my on the job training.

My first Project Search rotation was at my county’s Election Office, during our state and national elections – which was pretty exciting!

My second rotation was at a 717-bed hospital.

Now I intern at a science museum’s gift store.

You might wonder how I got the tattoo parlor job while still in middle school. Well, I told my mom about my interest and we just walked in and asked!! We were pretty amazed when the owner said “yes.” He was excited about working with me. My mom said it was just like in the movies and she could not believe it was actually happening. However, I would have to say that starting internships in middle school definitely prepared me for my later internships with Project Search.

All together my three Project Search rotations will take about a whole school year.

I enjoy learning new skills in new places that will help me get my dream job. But, honestly, my dream job changes.

I like music, arts and entertainment, so I would like to work in that area somehow. I would like to help set up for entertainment events. Right now I do a little of that by volunteering at a film festival and a living history museum. I volunteer whenever I can and started when I was young.

I also want to design T-shirts, and own a tattoo parlor, and write a book about musicians and…you see…I have a few too many dream jobs and every week I add more dream jobs! After all, I am still pretty young.

In all my jobs, I like the people I work with the most, I like that I am making a difference, and I love the food! My old tattoo parlor boss used to treat me to burgers and tacos. That was fine with me!

My advice is to have a good work attitude, do what your bosses and coaches ask you to do in a happy and cheerful manner, speak up if you are unhappy about something, are confused or need more information, and listen to your parent/guardian’s advice. Most importantly, do your work!

John Cronin headshot
Business Owner

John Cronin

My name is John Cronin. I have Down syndrome. Last November, I started a new business with my Dad. It is called John’s Crazy Socks and we sell socks online. I love having my own business and I love working with my Dad. I want to share my story so that people can learn about John’s Crazy Socks and other people can see what someone with Down syndrome can do.

I love hearing my Dad tell the story of when I was born and he held me in his arms and cried because he was so happy. I don’t remember any of this, but I was sick when I was born. I had two operations. Doctors fixed my intestine when I was only two days old. And before I was three months old, I had heart surgery because I had a hole in my heart. A lot of people with Down syndrome are born with heart problems, but good doctors can repair those hearts. My Mom and Dad have pictures when I was just a tiny, tiny baby, but now I am big, strong and healthy.

I have my own business now, but I spent a lot of time in school learning so I could start my business. I went to pre-school at ACDS. I remember riding the bus to school and have pictures from when I was playing in that school. They helped me get started. After pre-school, I went to the Huntington Schools. I have had many really good teachers there who helped me a lot. They were very special to me. When I was a little kid, I had an aide who would help me in school. I liked my aides, but I wanted to show them that I would do things on my own so then I didn’t need an aide. I also took the big bus to school like everyone else so I didn’t need to ride on the little bus.

My favorite subject is math, but I like all my classes. I studied life skills with Dr. Murphy-Jessen, though I also got to take chorus, photography and fashion. Ms. Klee has been my speech teacher and she is always helping me. I keep working on my speech because in my business I meet with so many people and speak to big groups. During the last three years, I spent half my day at Huntington High School and half my day at Wilson Tech. This year, I am studying retailing at Wilson Tech. Two days a week, I go into the community and work at stores. I work at Bob’s and Marshalls. And we run the snack shop at Wilson Tech.

I have two big brothers and they played a lot of sports and even played football in college. I wanted to be like them so I play a lot of sports in the Special Olympics. I love the Special Olympics. I play soccer, basketball, floor hockey, track, bowling and snowshoe. I go to practices and we train for the big games and matches. I love going to the State Games. I take the bus with the team and stay in a hotel with the team. I can do that because I am independent and can do things on my own. I have a lot of great coaches in Special Olympics like Coach Mike and Coach Murray in soccer, and Coach Joe and my brothers and Dad who help coach. My favorite coach is Linda Roth who is my snowshoe coach. She is a tough woman, but lots of fun and she gets us to run hard. We train on the beach in the summer when there is no snow and get in shape for our races in the winter.

My brothers Patrick and Jamie have always helped me and my Dad and Mom love me and teach me all the time. They help me do things on my own. I like to be independent and show people what I can do. I have my own room and I take care of that. I bring my laundry to the laundromat. I can make my own food. When we go out, I order my own food and I pay for things. I can walk into town on my own because my parents trust me and I like to do things like everybody else.

I had my first job in a law office for my parents. I would help with the shredding and go to the Post Office. I first went to the Post Office with my Dad and he showed me what to do. Then I went by myself. Two years ago, my parents gave me a contract. I had my responsibilities and I did them every day. I did the shredding and went to the Post Office and cleaned up outside and took care of the recycling. I also did errands like bring checks to people and pick up things at the store. I loved having a job and earning money to pay for things on my own. Last summer, I got a job working in the kitchen at Camp Alvernia. I went to Camp Alvernia when I was a little kid and was happy to go back and work there. I helped put drinks in the refrigerator and get food ready to cook and I cleaned up after the lunches.

Because I turned 21, this is my last year in school. I loved going to school and seeing my teachers and my friends, but I want to be a grown up. I was thinking of a lot of different things after leaving school, but I wanted to go into business with my Dad. Last November, we were talking about my socks because I always liked to wear fun socks. I said we should sell socks and he agreed. That’s how we can up with the idea of John’s Crazy Socks. We wanted to do something fast so we could see if the store would work. I helped pick out socks and my Dad built the website and helped organize the company. We made a Facebook page and I made videos for Facebook. We discussed all the plans and worked hard to make our business a success. We opened our store on Friday, December 9, 2016. And wow, people loved what we did. We sold so many socks that we ran out of socks that weekend. We sent our socks all around the country, though I made home deliveries in the town where I live, Huntington, NY. I loved making the home deliveries and meeting customers and seeing them smile.

Because I love the Special Olympics so much, we decided to give to the Special Olympics. So we give 5 percent of everything we make to the Special Olympics. Since I have Down syndrome, I wanted to do a Down syndrome sock. My Dad and I designed this sock and we give money from it to my old school, ACDS, and to the National Down Syndrome Society. I have a lot of friends with autism, so I wanted to do an autism sock too. So now we have an Autism Awareness Sock and we give money to charity from that sock.

My Dad says I am the face of the business. My face is on the logo. I make videos about our sock store. I meet with the sock makers and help pick out socks. I meet with customers and speak to community groups. I like to give my business card to people and tell them to buy my socks.

Every day I work in my business. I help get the socks to put in orders. I write thank you cards that we put into every package. I help put together the cards and candy that we put in our packages. I bring our packages to the Post Office every day. My Dad jokes that I look like Santa Claus carrying a bag of goodies. And I make local deliveries.

We are growing our business. We have hired people to work with us and some of my classmates from school who have autism work with me now. I keep picking out new socks and we have more socks to sell in our store. We hope to have the world’s largest sock store someday. I also hope to be on the Ellen Show to talk about my business.

I hope you enjoyed reading my story. I get to do a lot and I love running my own business. I could not do it on my own. I got help from my family and my teachers, but I am able to work in my business and show that people with Down Syndrome can work and do many things

Ashley DeRamus headshot
Fashion Industry

Ashley DeRamus

Hi, my name is Ashley DeRamus and I am a person with Down syndrome.

My imagination and drive to succeed know no limits. So, having Down syndrome has never stopped me from following any of my dreams.

Now, at the age of 34, I am an award winning athlete, a national advocate for individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities, a public speaker, a fashion designer and the leader of a charitable foundation for people with Down syndrome.

As an athlete, I have earned 43 medals for swimming in the Special Olympics competitions. I am also a sailor, having logged 5 days on the HMS Bounty tall ship showing the world that having Down syndrome does not stop me from achieving my dreams. However, my dreams keep on growing.

As a national advocate and public speaker, one of my most cherished aspirations is to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at public forums in all 50 states to raise national awareness of the abilities of people with Down syndrome and to encourage people with Down syndrome to be informed voters. I have already led the Pledge in 30 states, at locations such as the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Grand Canyon. With 20 more states to go, I have had other opportunities to spread awareness of the varying abilities of people with Down syndrome using other platforms. I was interviewed at the United Nations speakers corner, which allowed me to show people from around the world how I, Ashley DeRamus, a person with Down syndrome can follow my dreams.

It was an honor when I was named one of the “6 Entrepreneurs with Down syndrome Who Are Inspiring the World” by Disney’s Babble. On top of being an international voice for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities, I had a music video debut with Grammy and Dove Award-winning Christian and gospel singer Jason Crabb for his new single, “Love is Stronger.” I starred in the video depicting families touched by Down syndrome. The video was a success and in September 2013 went on to be featured by USA Today.

As a young woman with Down syndrome, I was always struggling to find clothes that were both fashionable and fit me well. My mom and I did not understand why a woman with Down syndrome, like myself, should have to choose between being fashionable or finding clothes that fit me well. My mom and I launched Ashley by Design, a line of fashion-forward clothing especially designed to fit young ladies with Down syndrome who always want to look their best! My mom and I are the designers of the clothing line and believe that Down syndrome should never be an obstacle to wearing the latest styles that fit great. So, Ashley by Design is not only on trend, it is cut to perfectly fit the proportions of girls and ladies with Down syndrome. Even better is that young ladies that wear Ashley by Design can feel confident that they are a fashionable philanthropist, as proceeds from the sales of the clothing supports the Ashley DeRamus Foundation.

The Ashley DeRamus Foundation was launched by my mom and me in 2012. The Foundation’s mission is to educate the public about Down syndrome. Among the many things, the foundation does to help educate the public about Down syndrome is our focus in early intervention at the Bell Center in Birmingham, Alabama. At Birmingham, Alabama’s Bell Center for Early Intervention we provide funding for early intervention, and I also volunteer at the Bell Center!

At the Bell Center, I work with babies with Down syndrome and children with other special needs. My hope is to be a role model, so when the parents of the babies and children meet me, they see that with a little imagination and drive to succeed, nothing can stop their children from following their dreams

Valoree Lisi headshot
Multiple Industries & Advocacy

Valoree Lisi

Hi, my name is Valoree Lisi. This is my story on my successful journey of how I have achieved four jobs; two paid jobs and two volunteer jobs. I began working when I was 14 as a volunteer for the Hudson Valley SPCA. I still volunteer once a week for 4 hours, 13 years later! When I was 17 I began working for Price Chopper as a bagger in Newburgh NY. I have been working there for over 10 years.

I am also currently working for Newburgh Enlarged School District, as a cafeteria prep worker. I have worked there for 3 years and will be getting retirement benefits!

I am also a Self – Advocate working with the Down Syndrome Association of Hudson Valley and have been for four years. I helped make the ABLE Act become law of the land.

I went to 3 online colleges and I received 3 diplomas for cooking, catering, and natural health consulting. I have written 2 cookbooks and I am working on my 3rd cookbook

Sean McElwee headshot
Inspirational Speaker

Sean McElwee

I never thought about having my own business before. Nobody told me I just needed an idea. I had job experiences in my Transition Program, Go-Backs, Sorting underwear and boring stuff like that. Then I got a job at a grocery store facing shelves and doing carts. I hate the carts. I quit. Then I got a job at Home Depot. More carts. I quit that job too. I got to be on the TV show Born this Way and love it so much. I give speeches to groups all over the country, and now in other countries because I spoke in Canada too.

I told my mom that my speech was boring and told her what I wanted it to say. She helped me do a new PowerPoint with pictures and my words. It’s called, “It Could Happen, That’s What Faith Can Do.”

And I tell the stories of my big dreams and when they happened and then I say, “That’s What Faith Can Do.” I get the audience to say, “It Could Happen,” when I tell my big dreams to them. One day I’m going to give the speech in Angel Stadium to a lot of people.

After mom and I finished the PowerPoint I told her we needed T-Shirts and hats and mugs and bags that said, “It Could Happen,” and “That’s What Faith Can Do.”

She listened and called her friend who is an artist and she told us how to do it. Mom thought it was a good idea and helped me get the shirts to look like what I wanted them to.

I explained to Mom what I wanted the shirts to say and what they should look like, she drew what I said (not very good) and sent it to the designer and they made it like I said. Then I told them ok, or change things depending on if I liked it or not.

We got the first two and now I keep thinking of things that should be on a shirt.

Mom helped me name the company, “Seanese” because I speak my own language. I say things backwards sometimes and it can be funny. Now I get to be a model too with my shirts, mugs and bags.

I’m going to have a poster and some pillows but those aren’t done yet and I have a lot more ideas about things to put on shirts. Check it out at

I wanted a job working with kids and I just got the perfect job for me. I’m going to work at a trampoline park helping little kids and helping with their birthday parties and I can’t wait it will be so fun.

And now I speak to groups, work on Born this Way, have my own business and work at a trampoline park. I think I have a really great life. Now maybe I can save enough money to buy a house on the beach with a pool

Brad Hennefer headshot
Customer Service

Brad Hennefer

Brad Hennefer is proud to share that he has been employed for over at Wegmans in Cherry Hill, NJ. In 2017, Wegmans was ranked as #2 on the “FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For” and they have been on the list for 20 consecutive years. Brad works in the produce department, right in the front of the store, so he’s very visible to all of their customers. In 2013, both Brad and representatives from Wegmans were speakers at the United Nations for the World Down Syndrome Day “Right to Work” conference in New York City. Wegmans is a fantastic employer!

Brad is also a very active self-advocate. In 2008, he became the first person with Down syndrome to play two varsity sports in high school. He played on both the Cherry Hill High School East basketball and golf teams all four years, earning four varsity letters in golf and one in basketball. He’s been featured in the national media due to his athletic accomplishments and self-advocacy. In 2016, both ESPN and Fox Sports produced segments profiling Brad and his friendship with J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers to help raise awareness about Down syndrome and to spread the message that individuals with disABILITIES shouldn’t be judged based on their appearance.

Brad has been very active with advocacy and public speaking through his Brad Hennefer Golf for Life Foundation. He has presented keynote speeches and workshops at conferences, hospitals, universities, Buddy Walks and other community events where he shares his journey with Down syndrome. You can also read about him in “Chicken Soup for the Soul Inside Basketball” and “Gifts 2.”

Brad loves working at Wegmans, being a self-advocate, and working with his foundation but something was still missing. His true passion has always centered around physical fitness and athletics, so we needed to find a way to channel that passion into something empowering that he could do for the rest of his life. It was important that it be something that still allowed the time freedom for his other endeavors and something he could do from home without transportation challenges.

In 2016, Brad became an entrepreneur! He’s the first “Ambassador” for Plexus Worldwide who has Down syndrome. Plexus is a health and wellness company that utilizes network marketing to share their products. Through social media and other marketing, Brad shares his own personal success with the Plexus products as well as the business opportunity. He hopes to empower other families to creatively tackle the challenges related to staying physically fit and healthy, but to also build a residual income. Brad now has the best of both worlds including traditional employment that he loves at Wegmans, combined with a home-based network marketing business. You can easily follow Brad on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by searching on #EntrepreneurDownSyndrome

Becky Bierwas headshot
Floral Business

Becky Bierwas

Hi! My name is Becky Bierwas and I am the owner of designedbylove floral. I wanted to share a little bit about my business with you and the heart and vision behind it, myself and why I want to work with individuals who have Down syndrome.

designedbylove was a company I started in 2010 while living in Arizona. While it didn’t start off entirely as a floral business back then, the premise of the business and the symbolism behind the name still rings true seven years later. designedbylove floral is a start-up floral business in Houston that solely focuses on delivery and floral subscriptions as well as teaching floral design to individuals with Down syndrome in day school programs. The mission for the business is simply, “We’re not just in the flower business, we’re in the business of changing lives!” The vision and dream I have for this company is to be able to own a delivery business where I can employ individuals with Down Syndrome here in the Houston area as floral designers. I am not only an advocate for those who have Down syndrome, but it’s also something that has touched me personally, having nannied a little girl with Down syndrome.

Thus far, I have successfully taught three floral workshops to the Education4Life (E4L) participants at the Down Syndrome Association of Houston (DSAH). The first was “New Year, New Trade” and the second was Valentine’s Day themed, “Share the Love, One Flower at a Time.” Each workshop all participants were shown basic floral design techniques that they replicated, and with some direction and guidance they all successfully participated in creating their own floral arrangements that had been pre-ordered by those in our Houston community. The third collaboration was “Celebrating Abilities” Floral Workshop with DSAH on World Down Syndrome Day.

Gabriel Savage headshot
Customer Service

Gabriel Savage

My name is Gabriel Savage and I’ve had 2 jobs here in Washington