The Ripple Effect of Inclusion – “You are Beautiful and Pretty”


We know that at any given moment your life can change.  When we open our heart, we really can change for the better. High school can be a tough time to fit in, be a part of the team or just make friends.  It’s difficult for many to reach out for this acceptance but thankfully there are those individuals that do; they smile, and their brightness makes it easier for all of us.

When Ellen was asked to write a college entrance essay about something that was central to her identity and share something that she believes completes her application she wrote…

“MY HERO” by Ellen

“You are so beautiful and pretty.”  This is something that I heard every day for three years from the person who has most significantly impacted my life.  She is a girl who does not let her disabilities change her way of life.  She is a kindhearted, sweet, and compassionate sophomore who attends my high school.  I met her two years ago while starting my second year on junior varsity cheer when one of my cheer coaches brought her to practice.   She always dreamed of being a cheerleader.  Her name is Kaitlyn, and she was born with Down syndrome.  Most people see this disorder as a limitation to what she can accomplish.  Kaitlyn and I see it as a chance for her to become whatever it is she desires.  As soon as she became a part of our cheer squad, my team and I welcomed her with open arms.  Although she may have challenges mentally, the frustration does not show on her adorable smiling face.  She is constantly cheerful and positively affects everyone who watches her.”

“When I am struggling with any problem, I think of Kaitlyn and her daily challenges.  I admire her spirit and attitude because she never expresses frustration.  She sees life as a gift and that has taught me that life is genuinely wonderful.  She has changed my perception of the world from her extreme compassion and optimism.  Today I am blessed to have quality health, friends, and family; those are all anyone can ask for.  She never shows hatred and is in high spirits every time I see her.  I have learned from her that not everything is based on appearances, especially someone who is physically changed from a genetic disorder.  People are more than what they appear to be.”

“Kaitlyn has revealed to me that you can always be positive; a smile could change someone’s entire day.  Each day I see Kaitlyn in the hallway, I smile because I realize how fortunate I am to be friends with someone who is so cheerful.  Despite her age, I still look up to her and strive to achieve her optimism.  Kaitlyn never gives up; she is constantly trying and learning.  Failure is an aspect of life that everyone goes through, she has taught me that one failure cannot define you.  I hope to develop her dedication and enthusiasm.  I am thankful to have someone like her in my life to lift me out of the occasional blues.  Kaitlyn seems to see the world as a playground and even though life is filled with everyday challenges, we can still play and have fun.  Before I met her, I had a more selfish viewpoint toward what happens in the world.  Knowing her has shown me that I do not have to be serious all the time, it is okay to play around and enjoy the simple joys in life.  Once at a football game Kaitlyn created a story about a boy and a girl using two rocks.  The boy and girl would be playing together outside and eventually would fall in love and marry each other.  She was smiling and giggling at her story so naturally I laughed along; I realized that the simple joys in life are as significant as anything else.”

“Ultimately Kaitlyn has changed my life.  The smiles that she creates on most everyone’s face and the pure joy she brings inspires me to be more like her.  She lives her life to the fullest and anyone can see her extreme pleasure from something as simple as cheer practice.  This relationship has positively influenced my behavior, attitude, and actions.  Kaitlyn is “my hero” and one of the reasons I am the person I am today.”

This was Ellen’s essay from her high school experience.  I have been fortunate to facilitate Volunteer Orientation at GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix for a few years.  Thank you to all the parents bringing their children and teens into GiGi’s to volunteer in art, music, sports, and social programs with children and teens with Down syndrome.  Our differences make us who we are, and acceptance can be taught through positive experiences.  Ellen’s moments with Kaitlyn are not unique but instead are available every day when we open our hearts and allow ourselves to be changed.  It starts with a smile.

Submitted by Guest Blogger Stephanie Gage former GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix Board President

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  1. Cathy Judge on December 31, 2022 at 4:38 am

    The impact our GiGi’s Participants have on their peers in the “typical” population is immeasurable. Kaitlyn has directly influenced many of her typical friends to seek a higher education pertaining to the “special needs” community. Inclusion is so important as it develops a greater understanding and empathy regarding diversity and thus promoting “acceptance” of all.

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