My name is Hillary. Hannah, my 16-year-old sister, has Down syndrome. I was 9 when Hannah was born, and I am 25 now. Hannah lives with our mother in McDonough, GA where she attends public high school.
My dreams for Hannah are vast – and perhaps only matched by the dreams Hannah has for herself. She often speaks of living alone when she grows up (which is happening much too quickly for this overprotective sister) – and even having multiple homes in various parts of the country to suit her very particular weather preferences. Hannah also frequently mentions wanting to have a job. Like many kids, she has big ambitions. She dreams of becoming a storm chaser, a restaurant bus person, a retail sales associate and more.
Hannah is naturally nurturing and service-oriented. She takes much pride in accomplishing a task for herself – or better yet, helping others complete their tasks. I wish for her to live independently and have the opportunity to enjoy employment and become a productive and contributing member of a team.
Mom, Debbie, added: Hannah's story would not be complete without mentioning hers exuberant love for Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Leigh Curtis (yes, and Activia Yogurt), weather (especially tornadoes), and sports (especially UGA Bulldogs and Braves catcher Brian McCann whose jersey # 16 matches her current age, making her most proud). She’s already planning her 17th birthday next summer around a trip to the Ellen Show in Los Angeles.
To this point, Hannah has received early intervention services through Babies Can’t Wait including speech, music, occupational and physical therapies. She entered public school pre-K at age 3 and will complete this portion of her formal education at age 22. Our experiences with both Clayton County and Henry County Public Schools have been awesome; the professionals there have honored our every request with graciousness and rapidity.
Since her infancy, our family has belonged to both the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta and FOCUS-GA (Families of Children Under Stress); both non-profit organizations have added to Hannah’s quality of life in terms of their efforts in advocacy, awareness, education and support.
Always a sports enthusiast, Hannah has also taken advantage of community resources such as Special Olympics, the Henry County Therapeutic Parks and Recreation Department, as well as private equine therapy at Camp Calvin and Honey Creek Youth Ranch in our area. She honed her skills in gymnastics with Tumble-and-Dance in Stockbridge and cheerleading with CheerTowne Academy in McDonough. Though she has tried several, her favorite sports remain basketball and football. In fact, she is currently the only girl on the flag-football team at Union Grove High School this fall and has the opportunity to serve as manager with the girls’ basketball team at Ola High School this winter.
To achieve her dreams, Hannah will continue to need the support of her loving family and the school system, even beyond her 22nd birthday. Whereas she is on the long-term planning list with the State of Georgia’s MHDDAD department for employment and residential support, Hannah will thrive on continued real community supports, including those from her faith community where a special needs ministry is in the early stages of implementation. As we plan her transition to adulthood, we are now looking at post-secondary options and hope that more colleges/universities in our state will follow the exemplary model set by Kennesaw State University and/or develop their own. As her peers, Hannah will be a life-long learner. – Debbie Hibbon
Throughout her 16 years, Hannah has saved my life again and again. She gave me purpose when I had none, love when I needed it, and unconditional support, happiness and light. Our family has been through several crises over the past few years, and Hannah has been a shining light through it all. I only want to give her what she’s given me.
One thing I want others to know is that people with Down syndrome are not one-dimensional characters. They have rich personalities, complex relationships and unbridled love and optimism. My relationship with Hannah has been the single most important and defining relationship of my life. She has given me so much. I am beyond lucky and unbelievably blessed to call her my sister.
A final note from Mom: Needless to say, I have always been and continue to be one proud and grateful mother for the unwavering love and support Hillary has always given her sister. Though my ultimate goal for both daughters is that they become independent adults, Hillary said from before Hannah’s birth until now that she will always “take care of her.” Whereas I rest easy in knowing this, of course I also want Hillary to follow her every dream wherever each may take her. Besides, given the 40-year age difference between Hannah and me, I plan to still be here at age 95+.