Global Down Syndrome

Issue 1 of 4 - 2018

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AT JUST 6 YEARS OLD, VALENTINA GUERRERO HAS FOUND HER CALLING — TO BE A BEACON OF INCLUSION AND INSPIRATION – BY BEING HERSELF. JUAN GUERRERO AND CECILIA ELIZALDE grew up in Ecuador, moved to the U.S., and were pursuing their dreams when Elizalde gave birth to their first child, Valentina. They had never met a person with Down syndrome before that moment. Elizalde's mother put it into perspective immediately. "Valentina is an exceptional little girl, and she will get very far," she told Elizalde. "Remember that amongst her genes are also those of your grandfather and grandmothers, your parents, and yours … and YOU have the strength within you to maximize the potential in this amazing child. We will figure this out. It is no coincidence you decided to name her 'Brave Warrior' long before she was born." Valentina Guerrero's name in English translates to "Brave Warrior." From the moment she entered the world, she has bravely inspired those around her, especially her parents and godmother, Lexie Potamkin, a human rights activist, author, counselor, minister, and former Miss World USA. The birth of their first child changed how Guerrero and Elizalde see the world. "When we realized all of the enriching benefits that come from having a person with Down syndrome in your life, we wondered why more people didn't know that, so we embarked on a lifelong mission to help change the outdated perception of this genetic condition," Elizalde said. "Our ultimate goal is to contribute toward a society that respects, values, and celebrates diversity." MODELING INCLUSION Guerrero, a trusted friend and employee of the Potamkins, and Elizalde, a veteran of the entertainment industry, live in Miami with Valentina and their 3-year-old son, Oliver. When Valentina was born, they recognized the power of images to shape perception and thought modeling would be a great fit for her. They were right. At just 9 months old, Valentina became the face of DC Kids USA, swimwear designer Dolores Cortés' 2013 children's collection. Since then, she has appeared on the cover of People magazine, graced a giant screen in Times Square, and modeled for major brands — Gap, Walmart, and Carter's, to name a few. She has also been featured in numerous media outlets and a United Nations report about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. "We've received emails from parents around the world telling us how seeing Valentina on a magazine, TV, ad, or social media has changed their lives," Elizalde said. "We have received letters from technicians who do prenatal diagnoses who tell us that after showing couples our Facebook or Instagram pages, they become so moved that they decide to have their baby, and later come back as grateful, happy parents." Count Potamkin among the many people who are amazed by Valentina. The Aspen, Colorado, resident has worked with Tibetan Buddhist monks and the Dalai Lama, and has spoken at the United Nations to advance human rights, diversity, and inclusion. Guerrero and Elizalde have known her for years. The couple chose her to be Valentina's godmother because her values and spirituality are qualities they hope Valentina will emulate. To Potamkin, however, it is Valentina who sets an example. "I was at first surprised that Valentina goes to a traditional school, is beginning to read like other kids her age, knows her alphabet, and hit all her milestones," Potamkin said. "But now it doesn't surprise me one bit. She breaks down stereotypes every day. She is so sweet and loving and tackles everything with a smile." A LEARNING EXPERIENCE Some of the earliest barriers to inclusion that Valentina had to overcome involved her education. She did so well in a public school pre-kindergarten program including both children who are differently-abled and typical children that she was awarded the only spot in a fully typical class. The large class size was not ideal for Valentina, and a small number of parents made hurtful comments about her. To avoid exposing Valentina to negative attitudes, Guerrero and Elizalde decided to enroll her in a different school, but finding one was not easy. They hoped to take advantage of CONTINUED ON PAGE 24 A Girl WITH A PURPOSE 2018 ISSUE 1 OF 4 • DOWN SYNDROME WORLD ™ 22

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