Parents who are expecting or have recently welcomed a child are typically showered with congratulatory sentiments. That’s not always the case for those who have a child with disabilities, such as Down syndrome. Sometimes, people unintentionally say hurtful things; and other times, people don’t say anything at all. But all babies, with and without disabilities, deserve to be celebrated, says Brittany Schiavone, founder of Brittany’s Baskets of Hope. This nonprofit is committed to providing information, support, guidance and, as the name states, hope to families that are either expecting or have newly welcomed a baby with Down syndrome.
A Down Syndrome Nonprofit is Beautifully Born
When Sue and Rocco Schiavone welcomed their daughter, Brittany, back in 1989, physicians and loved ones alike muttered, “I’m sorry,” rather than gleefully shouting “congratulations.” That’s because Brittany was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome; and, so, some believed that she wouldn’t (or couldn’t) lead a full life. But the Schiavones didn’t want or need sympathy or doubt. They wanted joy, and they needed supportive love — as did their new daughter and her older brother, Justin. So, as parents do for any baby, Sue and Rocco nurtured their little girl; and encouraged her to embrace the beauty of differences, be confident to pursuit of endless possibilities and, most of all, embody and exude happiness and kindness.
And that she did… throughout her childhood and still to this day! When Brittany entered adulthood, she realized her calling to promote these same powerful positive messages of inclusivity to other families like hers.
“In 2014, when I was 25, I saw a video on a break at work about people helping babies with Down syndrome. I told my parents I wanted to do that too,” Brittany tells AmeriDisability. Sue admits that they didn’t take her too seriously at first. After all, establishing and operating a nonprofit organization is a tall task. But Brittany remained persistent, eventually kickstarting operations from the basement of the Schiavone home.
In October 2016, Brittany’s Baskets of Hope sent out its first basket to parents of a newborn diagnosed with Down syndrome. To date, this Long Island based nonprofit has sent more than 2,100 baskets to families in all 50 states (and Puerto Rico)! With nationwide demand, most baskets are shipped throughout the country but, when possible, Brittany and Sue hand-deliver the special care packages to local families in the New York area.
“That’s my favorite part — when I get to talk to the moms and hold the babies. I think the babies know that I have Down syndrome and look up to me,” Brittany shares.
About 5,100 babies with Down syndrome are born in the U.S. each year, making it the most common chromosomal condition. People with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome which, according to the National Down Syndrome Society, can cause intellectual developmental disabilities, as well as low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes and other differing characteristics.
Presenting Bundles of Joy
Brittany’s Baskets of Hope contain assorted gifts for the baby, as well as the siblings, and resources for the parents. “We have knitters and crocheters from all over the U.S. who donate their handmade blankets, booties and hats for our babies,” Brittany describes. “We have a signature onesie that says ‘Down Right Perfect,’ and handmade bibs, burp cloths and other items for the babies.” Plus, parents receive a book, meaningful poem and heartfelt message from Brittney and Sue.
Brittany’s Baskets of Hope aligns with other Down syndrome related organizations across the nation to connect with families. Parents and/or loved ones may fill out a basket request form online at BrittanysBasketsOfHope.org.
“When we began in 2016, most of the requests were from a birth diagnosis but, lately, most [requests] have been from a prenatal diagnosis due to the blood tests that are standard now and can tell the sex of the baby as well as any chromosomal differences,” Sue says.
Brittany’s Baskets of Hope is almost entirely funded by generous donations. However, a couple of years ago, the nonprofit identified a unique fundraising opportunity. “We started printing our annual Brittany’s Baskets of Hope calendar in 2021 because we thought the babies were so cute. We wanted to share them even more. Parents love the calendars, and it has become a hit every year,” says Brittany, now 34. In addition to the financial revenue generated by the successful calendar campaign, Brittany’s Baskets of Hope also dabbles in the sale of inspirational t-shirts and sweatshirts, especially during National Down Syndrome Acceptance Month (October).
Down Syndrome Nonprofit Founder is Hopeful
Because of the importance of the mission, Brittany’s work has been praised by many. In 2019, she was chosen as the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth National Honoree and, in 2021, Brittany’s Baskets of Hope was honored with a headquarters renovation. As featured on NBC’s “George to the Rescue,” the Schiavone’s humble basement office was transformed into an official, organized nonprofit administration and fulfillment facility. Additionally, beyond their own nonprofit, Brittany and her family members are dedicated disability advocates, contributing to the efforts of other Down syndrome agencies.
“I have a great life and I want everyone to know it! I always say, ‘people with Down syndrome can do anything. Really, really everything,” Brittany attests. And she’s living proof of that!
To learn more about Brittany’s Baskets of Hope, including their wish list of baby items, visit BrittanysBasketsOfHope.org