Small blessings are showing up in the Federal Way community this October to honor Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
Each sign comes with information about Down syndrome and urges others to stop using outdated and inappropriate words to describe the syndrome.
These “blessings” are placed throughout Federal Way by 6-year-old Arianna Graham and her mother Andrea. Arianna was diagnosed with Down syndrome before birth and adopted by the Graham family.
However, Andrea Graham says they are working to shift the focus from awareness to acceptance.
“The world is aware that Down syndrome exists, and some of that is the problem,” Andrea Graham said. “We want people to be accepting and see that she’s not a burden, she’s not a hardship. She’s pretty amazing and she keeps us smiling … She just loves her community.”
On Oct. 14, the Grahams visited South King Fire & Rescue Station 62 for a meet-and-greet with the firefighters on duty. Little did Andrea or Arianna know, they were in for a surprise.
Arianna is the recipient of the 2021 Whitney Bellinghausen Community Service Award for her advocacy and positivity in the community, said Capt. Brad Chaney of SKFR.
Presented by the South King Firefighters Foundation, the Whitney Bellinghausen Community Service Award honors an individual who has given their time and talent to make the community a better place.
The award is named after a former South King Fire captain’s daughter. Whitney died tragically in a traffic accident in 2007, but during her short life, she was dedicated about helping others and giving back to the community.
“[I’m] shocked and a little bit emotional because it’s an honor,” Graham said. “We don’t do this for glory or for recognition. We do this to share who she is and how she has changed our life for the better.”
In the past year, Arianna has missed seeing her community, such as her friends at the Federal Way Police Department or fire department, Andrea Graham said. The family has worked to find new ways to connect with others, spread love and educate people about Down syndrome.
Each “blessings” sign is adorned with butterflies — painted with three lines in the middle of them, representing the third copy of the 21st chromosome that all people with Down syndrome have — symbolizing that Arianna is the Graham’s social butterfly of the family.
Graham’s latest book, I am Arianna, was published in March 2020 and another book is on the way. For more information, visit the “I am Arianna” Facebook page or firstname.lastname@example.org.