Matthew's future is so bright. He is surrounded by people who love and support him. He will be given every opportunity possible to be the very best he can be. I can't help but get a little teary eyed every time I think about how lucky we are to have two of the most amazing schools for Matthew already lined up.
The Little Lighthouse is such an amazing place, and it is about a mile from our house! The Little Lighthouse's mission is to glorify God by improving the quality of life for children with special needs, their families and their communities. They provide tuition-free educational and therapeutic services to children with special needs ages birth through six. They just opened their brand new facility last year, and it is state of the art. J.P. and I were lucky enough to go on a tour while I was still pregnant with Matthew. We were both so incredibly impressed with every person we encountered and the facility itself. We started our tour by watching a video and we were amazed that we knew multiple people in the video! We already felt a part of the Down syndrome community from the very beginning. The Little Lighthouse doesn't just serve kiddos with Down syndrome, but with many varying disabilities. They accommodate all children and work with them to make it a fun, educational environment. They have people come from all over the world to observe their school!
We put Matthew on the waiting list at The Little Lighthouse when I was 24 weeks pregnant. We didn't even have a name for him yet. I can't even count the number of people, who upon hearing about Matthew's Ds diagnosis emailed me or pulled me aside to make sure we knew about The Little Lighthouse.
Because they provide tuition-free education, they rely on donors who believe in their cause. I assure you that you will see me doing fundraising for them for years to come, but if you are interested in learning more about how you can donate to The Little Lighthouse, just click here.
I've said it before, and I will say it again, we are SO lucky to be a part of the Marquette/Christ the King community. That community has been one of the biggest blessings in our lives, especially over the past year. We chose Marquette for our kiddos because J.P. went there and had such a positive experience. He met most of his best friends there, and has been friends with them since he was in elementary school. That is rare, but I can see the same thing in my boys' future.
One of my absolute favorite things about Marquette is the RISE program. RISE stands for Religious Inclusive Special Education. RISE was modeled after a program in the Kansas City area (known as FIRE) that has been successful there for over a decade. The program is based on the "inclusion" model which allows for children with special needs to be in a regular classroom with the assistance of a teacher's aide or the supervision of a special education specialist. One of the great things about the inclusion model is that everybody benefits. Typically developing students benefit from learning about diversity, acceptance and kindness. The RISE program also helps any child who may just need a little extra help or attention.
Our kids have been around Down syndrome every day, even before Matthew arrived. Jack has had a classmate since kindergarten. He has been in his class, played on his sports teams, and been his friend for six years. One of Luke's very best friends has a little sister with Down syndrome. Luke has known her as long as he can remember. Ben has a little girl in his class who has Down syndrome. She was actually one of the very first people to know I was pregnant with Matthew. Before we had told anybody, she came up to me and said "You have a baby in your tummy!" At the time I thought my outfit must not be very flattering! Her mom said that she says that to lots of people, but it still feels extra special to me! She comes and checks on "Baby Matthew" every day after school. To know that we have all these people to lead the way, and to help us along, is so priceless. We are grateful for their friendship and the light they bring to Marquette.
Students in the RISE program pay the same tuition as other students. The difference in cost is made up through donations. You can also look forward to me doing fund raising for the RISE program for years to come! (As a head's up, I will be selling raffle tickets in January.) It is such an amazing program. The learn more about the RISE program, or to donate, click here.
For so many kiddos with special needs their education is up in the air. We are so blessed to have Matthew's future mapped out, at least until he is in high school. We are hopeful that in the next thirteen years there will be a high school in Tulsa who adopts a similar program to RISE. There are also colleges and universities across the country who are instituting inclusive programs. I can't think that far ahead right now, but I know that Matthew will have options. I follow National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion on Facebook, and their posts give me great hope for the direction the world is headed as far as inclusion.