Centerville mothers Gina Schmittdiel and Erin Ribar met three years ago after being connected through the Down Syndrome Association (DSA) of Minnesota.
Gina and her husband Brian have two children, a 4-year-old and soon-to-be 3-year-old Gunnar, who has Down syndrome. They are also in the process of adopting a newborn from the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network. Erin and her husband Matt have four children ages 7, 4, 2, and 7 months. Ben, their 2 1/2-year-old, has Down syndrome.
“An employee from DSA reached out to me to let me know a new family had moved into town. I emailed Erin, we met for coffee and we have been hanging out ever since,” Schmittdiel said. In 2017 the mothers began attending a Down syndrome parent group in Blaine. The following year, the two stepped up to facilitate the group, which they are doing again this year with the help of Sana Kassab Soussi from Blaine.
Because the location in Blaine was only 10 miles away from another support group in Mounds View, they decided to find a new location in Circle Pines. The group meets the second Monday of the month, October through May. The meetings consist of a meal, discussion or visits from a guest speaker. Free child care is provided during the meeting from volunteers who are ages 14 and up.
“Our group really likes the parent time. Sitting down together, having a meal, chatting about what is going on,” Schmittdiel explained. “On this side of it, the community is so amazing and supportive, but when you are just getting that diagnosis it feels so heavy and hard. We want to share the positives and amazingness of it.”
Ribar added that, “For a lot of families, getting the diagnosis can be a traumatic experience. It is really helpful (to connect with parents who have been through it) to see where your kid will be. It is nice to be around other parents who get it.”
Currently the group has families that travel from Centerville, Hugo, White Bear Lake, Bethel, Anoka, Ham Lake and St. Paul.
Both Schmittdiel and Ribar are advocates for children with Down syndrome. They were selected from a statewide pool of candidates to attend an eight-month Minnesota Partners in Policymaking leadership training, which started this fall. Schmittdiel serves as a board member for the DSA of Minnesota and Ribar is an active volunteer for DSA of Minnesota events. Ribar is also involved with the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network Medical Outreach Team, where she attends medical conferences as a patient advocate.
“Our meetings are meant for the community, to help strengthen each other, to bounce ideas off each other and support each other on things that are hard because they are, sometimes, and our children aren't always accepted,” Ribar explained. “We just want to build a strong community that will accept them and let our children be the best that they can be because it is better for everyone.”
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