Dear MDSC Member,

There was something special in the air as our community gathered for MDSC's 40th Anniversary UnstoppABLE Conference on March 23! The sheer joy, emotion and personal stories shared throughout the day made this historic 40-year milestone event everything we hoped it would be. 

Gathering together for this signature event in person for the first time in five years, gave us plenty to celebrate with over 500 people joining us at the DCU Center. We were proud to have so much to offer everyone in attendance— self advocates, parents and caretakers, grandparents and siblings, health care professionals, educators and others. 
In addition to the nearly two dozen expert sessions on everything related to Down syndrome throughout the lifespan, attendees were treated to Isaiah Lombardo's keynote address, a special dance performance by the Down Syndrome Folklore Latino Group, our 40th Anniversary awards presentations, a post-conference networking session, and more!

This year's UnstoppABLE theme was a perfect launching pad to reflect on MDSC's remarkable 40+ year history paying special tribute to the giants in our community. As I shared at the conference, MDSC is built squarely on the shoulders of the trailblazers who founded MDSC and established the first conference in 1985, as well as the disability advocacy pioneers who came before them.

Please enjoy our 40 Years of UnstoppABLE commemorative video, unveiled at the conference, to look back at the history of MDSC from the early days to the present day with photos and video stills from our archives, including our award-winning programs, numerous legislative accomplishments and countless UnstoppABLE advocates and self-advocates who have supported the MDSC through the years!
The disability rights movement has again and again demonstrated one irrefutable fact — the voices of self-advocates and family members and their friends and supporters, like you, are absolutely essential to making positive systemic change — change that truly recognizes that ALL people have the right to a meaningful, fulfilling life.

Please enjoy reading more below about all the fabulous details of a very special day in the history of MDSC.
Expertly emceed by Lauren Beckham Falcone (right) of WROR, our 40th Anniversary Awards Luncheon was equal parts informational, inspirational, nostalgic, lighthearted and hopeful. Here were some of the highlights.

DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder reflected on her parents' Unstoppable-ness in raising her brother Mark in the 1960s, before children with disabilities were guaranteed a public school education. "When I look across this room, you are all like my parents, unstoppable. You are going to define the services for individuals with Down syndrome into the future. And DDS will continue to listen to you. And we will continue to look towards MDSC to ensure your voices are heard."

Charlie Gadbois, former chair of the MDSC Board of Directors 17 years ago led the Board through a major transition period to ensure future growth and impact in our community, offered his heartfelt 'Anniversary Remarks', congratulating MDSC on 40 years of being unstoppable. "What an accomplishment to think of all the lives that have been positively impacted in a span of 40 years, all of the hopes and dreams that were kindled and fueled. And that fuel was added to the fire of positive thinking that drew people to believe that things could be done, rather than not be done; that people with Down syndrome had more to give than receive; that while life had its challenges, those challenges could be overcome."
We were honored to also be joined by special guests in attendance including DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder, DDS Deputy Assistant Commissioner Victor Hernandez, MRC Commissioner Toni Wolf, MRC Family Partnership Coordinator Manel Desvallons, and State Representatives Jack Lewis and Sean Garballey, as well as the program directors for each of the state's Down syndrome clinics — Dr. Brian Skotko of MGH, Dr. Nicole Baumer of Boston Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Penny Feldman & Dr. Beverly Hay of the UMASS Medical Center — and the amazing dedicated members of their teams. And so many other renowned physicians, researchers, educators, organization leaders, and expert family members and self-advocates who shared their expertise with us.
Keynote speaker Isaiah Lombardo, a 28-year-old full-time team member at Shake Shack in Watertown offered a glimpse into his busy life and some words of wisdom. "Every person with Down syndrome is very special in their own ways and are important members in their communities. I hope everyone grows up to find work, hobbies, and friends they enjoy and love to be around like I have," Isaiah said. He concluded, "I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me. I feel unstoppable!"
The Down Syndrome Folklore Latino Group, featuring Yesenia Areas, Alex Betancourt, Lina Gutierrez, Christopher Sanchez, Christopher Cabrero, and Elizabeth Zamudio, returned triumphantly to the Annual Conference stage after a seven year hiatus. Dancing to Ricky Martin's Pegate, and representing the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Mexico, the troupe energized the crowd and earned a standing ovation.
Marie Rej, recipient of the Allen C. Crocker Award of Excellence Marie has served as Buddy Walk coordinator for more than 20 years, starting in 1999, when her son Danny was just 3 years old. Her leadership has established the Buddy Walk as a mainstay at Wakefield Common every October, and she has worked with others to grow the event from a gathering that brought together a few dozen families for a “Family Picnic” to a full-fledged walk and fundraiser with entertainment, food and special guests. She has now been volunteering year round on our statewide Buddy Walk Committee for nearly 25 years, and remains MDSC’s primary liaison with the Town of Wakefield. Most recently, Marie and several partners created INspire Cafe, an independent, inclusive business in Wakefield with a mission to provide meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with diverse abilities. According to MDSC Board Chair Stacy Lindborg, “Marie’s impact is hard to overstate. Without her, the MDSC would most certainly not be what it is or where it is today. “
John Dunleavy, recipient of the Philip Donahue Employee of the Year Award — Named after Philip Donahue, who retired in 2022 after 27 years of loyal service to Market Basket, MDSC’s Employee of the Year Award went to Boston Bruins veteran employee John Dunleavy of Winchester. After 13 years in his position, John remains a dedicated employee at the TD Garden, where he delivers mail, maintains photocopiers, fills orders, handles Bruins and Celtics ticketing, and replenishes the break room. John has effortlessly established himself as an institution on Causeway Street — just by being himself. The award was presented by Philip’s beloved brother Richard Donahue. Boston Bruins Foundation President Bob Sweeney joined John on stage to accept the award.
Omar Masood, recipient of the Exemplary Employer Award — Omar’s World of Comics in Lexington Center is much more than your average comic book store. For one, the store’s president, Omar Masood, is a young man with Down syndrome, and the store itself is emblazoned not only with Omar’s likeness, but also the blue and yellow colors that represent Down syndrome. But that is just the beginning. The mission of Omar’s store is to be the most fully inclusive gathering spot imaginable, where everyone is welcome. His store has also taken the much harder step of making inclusion an integral part of their hiring and staffing process, providing job opportunities to the larger disability community, especially other LABBB graduates like Omar.
Eleanor Axelrod, Margaret Pulsifer, Betsy Pelz and Richard Downey, recipients of Board Leadership Awards — Four outgoing members epitomize the MDSC Board of Directors' dedication to ensuring the organization’s success by providing critical visionary leadership.

  • Eleanor Axelrod — served on our Audit & Finance Committee for 6 years
  • Margaret Pulsifer — served as our Governance Committee Chair for 12 years
  • Betsy Pelz — served on our Governance Committee for six years as well as for many years on our Education Task Force
  • Richard Downey — served as our Chair, Vice Chair, and Development Committee Chair for 8 years

Collectively, Eleanor, Margaret, Betsy and Rich, served 32 years on MDSC's board, bringing with them not only their immeasurable lived experiences and professional expertise, but also their commitment to the organization and the cause. We thank them for their leadership and dedication to the MDSC!
Throughout the day, we were proud to bring you more than a dozen expert-led sessions on everything related to Down syndrome throughout the lifespan — the latest medical and research updates, sessions on education, employment, inclusive technologies, financial planning and so much more.

Above, our "Research 101 for Everyone" panel with Hampus Hillerstrom, President & CEO, LuMind IDSC Foundation; H. Diana Rosas, MD, Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School; Eric Rubenstein, PhD, Assistant Professor Epidemiology, Boston University; and Alexis Sokoloff, a co-researcher in BU's Rubenstein Lab.
The energy in the DCU Center’s Junior Ballroom, where the Self Advocate Track of our Annual Conference is held, is always palpable. This year, after a 5-year hiatus, that energy for our 68 teens and adults with Down syndrome was through the roof. A morning ice-breaker of “four corners”, using colors, music, and animal costumes, ensured that everyone could participate and got everyone’s blood circulating. Following an informative and interactive presentation on relationships, our friends at Inclusive Fitness and Dr. Emily Davidson of Boston Children’s Hospital got everyone motivated with some group exercise, followed by yoga poses and pre-lunch meditation. Our PwC partners took the lead with a career-focused session — how to develop one’s “personal branding." Fun and positive stickers were used for inspiration and friendship bracelets that signified individual strengths were swapped. The day wrapped with an incredible dance party that none of the participants wanted to end.
An MDSC Annual Conference is always a multi-faceted occasion that goes well beyond the general session workshops and Awards Luncheon. Even before this year's conference started, we once again hosted a Diversity Breakfast for our families of diverse backgrounds. Throughout the day, our Brothers & Sisters Track connected with one another as they explored the joys and challenges of having a sibling with Down syndrome. Our Education Workshops provided best practices for educating students with Down syndrome in an inclusive classroom, as well as the benefits of inclusion for all learners. And our Grandparents and New Parents Specialty Workshops created a safe space for these groups to gather and share stories with expert voices to guide the conversation. Finally, if that wasn't enough, we invited conference attendees to join others for a post-conference social and networking gathering to continue connecting and reflecting on the day.
Thank you to everyone who made our 40th Anniversary Conference what it was.

I want to extend a special thanks to the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services for their support and to our amazing Conference Sponsors: Wellen Construction & the Gadbois Family, Sequoia Financial Group & the Nadworny Family, the National Down Syndrome Society, LuMind IDSC Foundation, Inclusive Fitness, Seven Hills Foundation, Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action, Fletcher Tilton Attorneys at Law, Advocates Inc, and The Arc of Massachusetts.

And, of course, thanks as well to all the speakers, exhibitors, volunteers, Board & Honorary Board members, management team, and conference attendees who made the day so meaningful for everyone!

Furthermore, whether or not you attended the conference, thank you for making the MDSC what it is today. As we reflect on the contributions of all who came before us, we are also looking ahead and strategizing how we can continue to be here for our loved ones with Down syndrome and our families for many years to come. As we do so, we thank all of YOU, our present-day trailblazers, who are paving the way for even brighter tomorrows!

Speaking of brighter tomorrows, at our Anniversary Conference we were thrilled to launch registration for our in person UnstoppABLE Buddy Walk, on Sunday, October 13, once again at Wakefield Common.

We can't wait to celebrate there with you, your friends and your family!

Warm Regards,