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Maine Dance Academy gathers socks to mark World Down Syndrome Day

CARIBOU, Maine — What began as a small gesture for Andrea Swanberg’s granddaughter in honor of World Down Syndrome Day quickly snowballed into a collective community donation of over 800 pairs of socks for the cause. 

Swanberg said the socks are a symbol of those affected with Down syndrome as being “more alike than different,” and that the day is marked on the 21st day of the third month because Down syndrome is diagnosed when individuals carry three copies of their 21st chromosome.

Many of the donors are parents of children who attend the Maine Dance Academy in Caribou with Swanberg’s 5-year-old granddaughter, Rosalie, who has Down syndrome.

She said Rosalie’s experience has at the dance academy has been immensely positive and that they are “always on board for full inclusion.”

Colleen DuPlissie, owner of Maine Dance Academy, said it only took one day to get Rosalie acquainted with the program.

“The kids are very loving,” said DuPlissie. “They don’t see color or differences, they just see her as Rosalie. They’re more alike than different.”

Rosalie Swanberg sits on March 5 in the middle of hundreds of pairs of socks at the Maine Dance Academy that were donated for World Down Syndrome Day, which will be marked on March 21. (Chris Bouchard)

“And when she leaves here,” Swanberg added, “she is hugged. She hugs everybody on the way out the door. I think we need more hugs.”

Just last week, Swanberg started a sock raffle on Facebook in an effort to collect and distribute mismatched socks to raise awareness for Down syndrome. DuPlissie soon saw her post and decided to help by sharing it and asking Maine Dance Academy parents to chip in.

“Andrea is a do-gooder,” said DuPlissie, “so I just said I’m upping your socks and now you’ve got 12 pairs to give. Then another six were donated, and within an hour and a half we had 168 pairs of socks.

But it didn’t stop there. DuPlissie’s phone began to ring off the hook and she was inundated with messages from people asking how they could help.

“I wrote to Andrea, and I was in tears because it all happened so fast,” said DuPlissie. “Everyone was willing to do something, and people shared it so many times.”

On Tuesday night, Swanberg and DuPlissie gathered with other members of the community and mismatched every pair of socks and created a pamphlet to accompany each pair.

From there, Swanberg said the socks will go to places and organizations both in and outside of Aroostook County, including the Maine State House in Augusta.

“Every member of the Maine State House and Senate will have a pair on their desk with the pamphlet on March 21st,” said Swanberg, adding that Maine Rep. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle agreed to arrange the sock distribution there.

Some also will be distributed at Miss Jordyn’s Child Care and Preschool in Caribou, where a child with Down syndrome is taught, as well as to members of the Aroostook County based Special Olympics Snowdogs basketball team.

Next year, DuPlissie said she sees no reason why they wouldn’t be able to gather 6,000 socks, noting how quickly a donation of 6 pairs snowballed to nearly 850 this year.

Swanberg said her goal is to ultimately distribute all the socks to places that “advocate, educate, include, and celebrate,” and for people to notice the mismatched socks as well as social media posts, which will ideally initiate a dialog about Down syndrome.

“Children learn about how we’re different,” said Duplissie, “and how those differences are OK. The world would be a much sweeter place if we could all celebrate our similarities and differences.”

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