And so, I’ve reached the final week of my summer internship. As you briefly saw from last week, I’ve learned quite a bit this summer. From how to tackle city traffic to how to master PowerPoint, Sharecare has equipped me with many skills that I will never forget. However, the most important achievement I’ve accomplished at Sharecare is related to an extremely important person in my life whom I’ve yet to share about on the blog. And so, here’s the story of my good friend Sylvia…
I don’t remember if it was my first or my second or even my fourth week of freshman year at Vanderbilt. Regardless of the week, it was early. I had just learned how to get to class without looking down at my phone (pretending to text, when really I was attempting to navigate my way through campus using Google Maps) and I was finally adjusting to an 8:00am Calculus class (the worst decision I ever made in college). Sitting with my friend Allie getting our typical morning smoothie, I was talking about how I had applied for a Dance Marathon committee, joined club field hockey, and been accepted into the Murray House Susan Gray School Buddy Program. I explained that my dorm, Murray House, had a partnership with the preschool on campus – The Susan Gray School – in which freshman students were paired with 1-year-olds at the school whom they would then visit once per week over the next 4 years.
As I was explaining this, the signature Susan Gray School little red wagon rolled by. In the front was the most adorable little girl. She had blonde pigtails and gorgeous almond shaped eyes. From my previous experience with the Special Olympics in high school, I immediately knew she had Down syndrome. And I wanted her. I even said it aloud. I accidentally exclaimed how absolutely precious she was and how I just had to have her as my buddy. On the day that I went to meet my buddy for the first time (all I knew was that she was a girl), I not-so-secretly wished that it would be her. Sure enough, I showed up to her classroom and there was only one little girl there. Sylvia. She was mine! At the time, all I could think about was how adorable she was. I bragged to my friends that my buddy was the cutest kid at the entire school (she still is).
What I didn’t realize that day was that my relationship with Sylvia over the next 2 years would become so much more than a simple extracurricular. It wouldn’t just be an hour of playing with a cute baby. It would become something far more important than that – a lesson of perseverance and strength and joy.
For the next year, I visited Sylvia religiously on Tuesdays. She became the greatest part of my week – the time I got to forget about my own stresses and focus on helping this little girl grow to face a world that won’t always be receptive to her differences. Quickly, I learned that our relationship would be different from those of other Murray buddies. Instead of running around the playground, we sat on a blanket and sang songs or I picked her up and helped her slide down the slides. Instead of watching her feed herself lunch, I fed her. Instead of doing all of the same activities in the same way as the other typically developing children in her class, we did them in a Sylvia-specific way. And it was amazing.
Over the past 2 years, Sylvia has grown incredibly. After a few weeks of being her buddy, I stopped feeding her and I worked with her teachers and physical therapist to teach her to feed herself. Throughout my entire sophomore year, Sylvia fed herself properly using her utensils, sometimes doing so even better than the typically developing children in her class. By the end of this April, she was walking. Granted she used a walker to help her, but she was doing it. I have no doubt that she’ll be walking on her own soon, if she isn’t doing so already. She sports a fashionable pink pair of glasses to help her with her vision, and she uses sign language better than I do. She has a constant smile on her face, and she especially enjoys when I sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” on repeat at the playground. Mostly importantly, she’s just a kid like anyone else.
Today, Sylvia is three years old and progressing quite excellently. Although I haven’t seen her since April, I know she’s making her teachers, her parents, and me prouder every day. When I’m with Sylvia, I realize that the things I stress about constantly are so insignificant in many ways because there’s this little girl on this same campus fighting for a chance to be considered “normal” in a world where we need more differences. She works twice as hard as every other child just to do the things that I don’t even think about doing – like walking and talking and eating. She has provided me with such an important, unique perspective on life that I hope to never lose. Sylvia is an incredible child who has truly affected me in profound ways, and I know she’ll continue to have the same effect on others throughout her life.
And so, how does this relate to Sharecare? Well, at the beginning of the summer, I mentioned that my primary role as a Corporate Partnership Intern was to find a gap in the Sharecare content, identify potential future partners to supply the information, then select a partner to join the platform. As you may guess, I found a lack of information regarding Down syndrome on Sharecare and made it my mission to close that gap. After much research and careful consideration, I selected the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Two months have passed since then, and the contract was officially approved on Friday. Thanks to Sylvia and her influence on my life, NDSS will be the first partner organization on Sharecare that is solely dedicated to providing information about living with and parenting children with Down syndrome.
Working at Sharecare, I have learned so much about health and wellness and the corporate world. I have been given the opportunity to turn one of my passions – volunteering with children with Down syndrome – into a tangible benefit for the company. I’ve been able to really make an impact, which makes my summer all the more meaningful. As I close in on my last week, I have the chance to reflect upon the most important aspect of selecting a career: aligning your passion with your work. I find that this may be the most important lesson I have learned this entire summer because it truly determines the quality of the rest of my life. Moving forward, I hope to never forget that work doesn’t have to be work, and that what I love should always be what I do.
It turns out the girl in the little red wagon with almond shaped eyes and blonde pigtails is certainly cute, but she’s so much more than that. Here’s to Sylvia and the wonderful impact she’s already made on this world.