Since the birth of her youngest child, Ruby, Barrie’s Ashley Cordua and her family have been on a mission to educate and advocate for those with Down syndrome.
Ruby, who will turn three at the end of March, was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after birth, and Ashley admits she was initially scared about what that could mean for her little girl.
“I wish we knew then what we know now because I wouldn’t have wasted so much time dwelling on a diagnosis. I would have been more open to seeing what she was going to bring us, what she was going to prove," said Cordua. "With Ruby, a lot of it is proving to the community and to the world that she’s just as amazing as her brother and sister are.”
Down syndrome, she added, has been the “absolute best thing” that’s happened to her family.
“I look at her siblings, Lola and Jack, and they have learned so much just from having a sister who is differently-abled,” she said. “We just shout Ruby’s worth any opportunity we have - not just for her but for the entire community. We want people to see that these individuals who have Down syndrome are just like us and can do amazing things.”
Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome (also referred to as Trisomy 21) and may affect many aspects of an individual’s development including; cognition, speech/language, motor skills, overall health, as well as physical characteristics.
In 2019, Cordua launched Rockin It With Ruby, a Barrie-based non-profit foundation that gives back to children and their families in need with Down syndrome by offering financial bursaries to families all across Ontario.
“The basis of the organization is to fundraise money, all of which is given back to families in need who have a child or adolescent child that needs a bit of extra funding,” she explained, pointing out that Canadian funding for disabilities is “extremely weak and hard to come by.”
“Our family, for example, doesn’t receive a cent from the government. So sometimes these parents have things that come up that they need to purchase for their child right away - something for physical or occupational therapy, or they need extra speech (therapy).
To do that, the organization hosts a variety of different fundraisers throughout the year, including their annual Sock Drive, in which they partner with U.S.-based Pride Socks, a company she said focuses on the inclusion of all abilities.
“Chromosomes actually look like socks when you look at them from a scientific research standpoint. So the entire down syndrome community all across the world on March 21 - which is World Down Syndrome Day - will wear funky socks,” she told BarrieToday.
“We are wearing these funky socks not only to support these individuals living with Down syndrome, but to also start a conversation and change the narrative about Down syndrome.”
As of earlier this week, Rockin’ It With Ruby had already raised $6,000 and sold 400 of the 450 “funky socks” they had ordered, she said, adding they are hoping to sell out completely before Monday.
In addition to inspiring her mother to create Rockin’ It With Ruby - which now boasts more than 8,000 followers worldwide - the tot was also named the Canadian Ambassador for Down Syndrome when she was only nine-months old, a title she still holds today.
The response to what they’re trying to accomplish has been more than they could have ever imagined, she admitted.
“We’re just hoping if we can change the perception for one person that we’ve made a difference,” she said. “I’d like to think we’ve changed the narrative a bit, started a conversation and shown people that Down syndrome is not a scary thing.
"There really is a lot of beauty to Down syndrome and showing the world, through Ruby, that these kids are capable of anything and they shouldn't be treated any differently than kids who are typical.”