Such is the case with Misty Adams and her daughter Zaylei. Misty was completely surprised six years ago when she was rushed in for emergency surgery and told her unborn daughter had a major heart defect along with Down syndrome. Misty was overwhelmed, but very happy to have her special daughter, Zaylei.
Almost immediately, she started researching Down syndrome and reached out to a local organization called F.R.I.E.N.D.S. - Friends Reaching, Inspiring & Educating Neighbors about Down Syndrome. They welcomed Misty and Zaylei with open arms. Misty learned first and foremost that any baby born - and especially one as special as Zaylei - should be celebrated positively. Misty attended a Moms' Night Out event and was relieved to be able to learn from other moms about their children with Down syndrome. The connections eased many of her concerns for Zaylei.
At four months old, Zaylei had open heart surgery to repair her heart and "support from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. was amazing through the surgery," Misty said. "Many families were there with encouraging words." That convinced Misty to become more involved in the organization. She loved the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. program of celebrating at hospitals upon the birth of babies with Down syndrome. When Zaylei was about 1, Misty was asked to serve on the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. board of directors, became president and started coordinating monthly events for Down syndrome families, kids and adults.
"I quit my job to care for Zaylei and also became a full-time volunteer with F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I love it and wouldn't have it any other way. I have made some of the best friends ever through this organization," said Misty. She coordinates two major fundraising events: the Buddy Walk, a national event held each spring in conjunction with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and a Buddy Run 5K Race, an event of her creation first held in 2016 and run each fall. Under her leadership, they have consistently surpassed F.R.I.E.N.D.S.' annual fundraising goals.
Misty is very proud of her daughter Zaylei who attends a regular public school. Inspired by Zaylei, she established a program for teaching public school teachers and students about Down syndrome with events on World Down Syndrome Day - held yearly on March 21 and named for Down syndrome's tripling of the 21st chromosome. Misty assists F.R.I.E.N.D.S. in many other ways and embraces new families and members and programs.
For her tireless efforts, Misty was recently nominated for and awarded Sertoma Club's "Service to Mankind Award 2018." Upon nominating Misty, F.R.I.E.N.D.'s executive director Allison Mains said, "she is dedicated to serving our families, enthusiastic in finding exciting new ways to support our children, passionate about improving community awareness about Down syndrome and driven to bring our chapter national recognition."
Misty was completely surprised with the award at a Sertoma Club luncheon in November and says, "I am so blessed to have been presented the award." In honor of Misty, Sertoma Club also presented F.R.I.E.N.D.S. with a check for $250.
The "Service to Mankind Award" has been awarded annually for 63 years by the Sertoma Club of Kingsport. The award recognizes non-club members in the community for "outstanding humanitarian, heroic, civic or other type of service to the community," according to club rules. Written nominations of 1,000 words or less are accepted between the last of September and first week of November.
"I feel we have been blessed with a very deserving winner this year. We've had nominations from all walks of life," says Sertoma Club member Charles Huffman. Nominees are ranked by blind judging and tabulated by Mr. Huffman, an accountant at Blackburn, Childers & Steagall, CPAs.
Sertoma stands for "Service to Mankind" and was established in Kingsport in 1962. Their main mission is to assist those with speech and hearing disorders. They helped establish Mountain Region Speech & Hearing Center along with other programs, like their annual "Jackets for Children" and Heritage & Freedom activities. Sertoma Club of Kingsport meets at noon, every second and fourth Monday, on the second floor of Food City's 1205 North Eastman Road location in Kingsport.
Sertoma's fundraisers include a food booth at the Appalachian Fair, a duck race in July and a golf tournament. To learn more about the organization, visit kingsportsertoma.org/.
To learn more about F.R.I.E.N.D.S., visit their website at www.dsfriends.net or call (423) 946-3734.