The New Canaan YMCA will host a celebration open to all on Sunday, March 18, from 2 to 4 p.m. in honor of World Down Syndrome Day.

Organized by Down Syndrome International, World Down Syndrome Day has been observed internationally on March 21 each year since 2006. The goal of the celebration is to promote awareness and understanding of Down syndrome, and to mobilize support and recognition of the dignity, rights and well-being of people with Down Syndrome across the World. Last year, more than 200 participants attended the New Canaan World Down Syndrome Day celebration at the Y.

As a part of its Special Needs Initiative, the New Canaan YMCA is hosting World Down Syndrome Day in support of the local organization, 21 Strong. 21 Strong is a group of families located in Fairfield County, who came together because their lives have been enriched by Down Syndrome.

"We prove that while Down Syndrome might unite us, it does not define our families or our children," Guisela Lombardo, a representative from 21 Strong, said. "That extra copy of the 21st chromosome has actually given us some unexpected gifts, strength, and insight that we would like to share. We are here to celebrate, support and inform."

Activities for World Down Syndrome Day include music and signing with Ms. Janine, Bouncing Bears gymnastics, art and sensory activities, Wii games, carnival-type sports panels, hockey for preschoolers and basketball for school-age children. All activities will be led by either 21 Strong members or New Canaan YMCA Special Needs staff and are open to all. Additionally, the event will also feature information about Down Syndrome in an effort to increase awareness among the community. Activities will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. with the event ending in the south gym with closing remarks by event organizers and a group picture.

"We are very excited to host this special event honoring Down Syndrome Day for the second year," Carolynn Kaufman, director of special needs programming at the Y, said. "Through the strong mission of the New Canaan YMCA, which embodies `everyone belongs here', the special needs department strives to recognize the strengths of all individuals by incorporating everyone in the programs at our Y. It is truly a place for the whole community."

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Admission is free and is open to all. Attendees can register in advance by contacting Kaufman at ckaufman@newcanaanymca.org, or 203-966-4528, ext. 156.

Founded in 1954 by a group of community volunteers, the New Canaan YMCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enrich all people in spirit, mind and body. As an inclusive community service organization, the YMCA turns away no one for reasons of race, religion, or economic background and last year awarded more than $270,000 in membership and program scholarships. Serving the communities of New Canaan, Pound Ridge, and South Salem, the YMCA also strives to partner with a variety of outside organizations to further its role as a community service provider.