As a parenting author and mom of three, Nancy O'Dell speaks from the heart about family and motherhood. Here, the Entertainment Tonight host talks about what she's doing to honor Down Syndrome Awareness month—and why Down syndrome is a topic that is near and dear to her heart.
You are so passionate and involved—what drew you to the Down syndrome community?
My Aunt Ellen was a person with Down syndrome and, while she was older than I was, we always had a unique bond. We spent hours, days, and years together playing and laughing... Aunt Ellen remains my inspiration today in raising awareness and promoting inclusion for the special needs community.
The National Down Syndrome Society's Great Story campaign celebrates and honors the great stories of the 400,000 Americans living with Down syndrome. Anyone can contribute a story, and we were really touched by the one you wrote. Tell us a bit about your Great Story.
Growing up, my great story was about the incredible way my Aunt Ellen inspired me and the memories that we made together. I remember when I was young asking my grandfather why God made Aunt Ellen the way he did. Poppy thought for a long time on this and answered, "Because he knew what a good friend she could be for you!" And indeed she was, with her unconditional love. (Read the rest of Nancy's Great Story here.)
You're also involved in the NDSS's National Buddy Walk Program, which has grown from 17 walks in 1995 to over 250 walks this year. Last year, some 285,000 people raised more than $11 million to support both local and national programs. What does it mean to be a buddy?
Being a buddy means being a friend and embracing wonderful people who want to be included. There's nothing more powerful or satisfying than making someone feel welcomed, included and embraced.
And you're part of a special catalog from Toy R Us that highlights toys for differently-abled children. Why is this important?
As a mom, I know that playtime is such an important time for children. The Toys R Us Differently-Abled Guide helps families and friends of kids with special needs to find the right toys that can help these kids explore new worlds and achieve personal victories… and also have so much fun. What's better than that?!
In your pregnancy book, Full of Life, you include lots of great mom-to-mom tips. As a mom yourself, what would you like to say to new and expectant parents about Down syndrome?
Every child brought into this world has a gift to give… and that is unconditional love. And no one has more love to give than a child with Down syndrome. Being a mom is the most rewarding job in the world. And whether you're the mom of a child with special needs or the mom of a child without special needs, one thing is crystal clear, you will love that child with all your heart… and, in return, that child will show you a love you have never before known.