Monday, 28 December 2009

On the 3rd day of Christmas I'd like to introduce ...

Karen Gaffney

The moment she was born 32 years ago, Karen Gaffney began an incredible journey that continues today. 

She is the President of a non-profit organization Karen Gaffney Foundation dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families, schools, the workplace and the community for people with developmental disabilities.  She is doing this by creating awareness and calling attention to the tremendous capabilities of people with disabilities, which she accomplishes through presentations and workshops delivered all over the world. 

Amongst her many achievements, Karen can list:
  • Graduating from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon 
  • A two-year Associates of Science degree from Portland Community College  
  • Swimming the English Channel as part of a six-person relay team in Summer 2001
  • Swimming 9-miles across Lake Tahoe in 59-degree water to raise money for the National Down Syndrome Congress in September 2007 video footage of Karen's Tahoe swim
  • Swimming 5 miles across Boston Harbour during Down Syndrome Awareness Week in October 2009 video footage of Karen's Boston swim
 Karen is only 4 feet 9 inches tall and  weighs 95 pounds.  She walks with a limp and can't use her left leg at all when she swims, but when Karen speaks she puts across a very powerful message that people with Down Syndrome are more alike, rather than different, from everyone else. Karen tackles any challenge she faces with determination and commitment, knowing she has limits, but not allowing them to limit her drive to succeed.  

I first heard Karen speak at the World Down Syndrome Congress in Singapore in 2004 and was blown away by her presentation.  Later on I was fortunate to get to meet her and her mum and have a great chat with them.  Then at the World Congress in Vancouver in 2006 we met again and I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Karen and her parents, which was really nice. She is pictured here with her mum.

Whilst we have only met up twice since then, once when Karen was in London and then in Dublin at the World Congress in 2009, I follow her work with great interest.

She is a fantastic advocate for people with Down's Syndrome and if you ever get the opportunity to hear her speak, I would highly recommend that you take it.  Do take the time to check out the links I've included and you will see that Karen truly is an inspiration to us all, not to give up on our dreams because other people think we can't do something.  

Most of all, Karen is a truly lovely and gracious person and it is an honour to call her my friend.

A message from Karen

Dear Penny,
Thank you so much for the kind and caring words in your article.  That was so nice of you to say that.  I have worked very hard to spread my message of being fully included in the regular classroom setting, and also to promote the mission statement here at my non- profit organization, The Karen Gaffney Foundation.  My message is in the hearts and the passion of people with developmental disabilities and their families, and I hope they take away my message deep in their hearts to share my story with people all over the world.  I swim and talk for awareness, and I work everyday to show what is possible for people with disabilities.  Anything is possible if you just put your heart to it. 

Thank you so much for working with me to spread this message worldwide.  I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Karen Gaffney

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