By Jano Tantongco
*originally published in the Long Islander News – Huntington Weekly
Brittany Schiavone was diagnosed with Down syndrome just minutes after she was born on March 19, 1989.
Her parents, Sue and Rocky, were hopeful for their new child, but the climate around them didn’t exactly share their enthusiasm. The reactions the Huntington Station family received, Sue said, were a mix of “congratulations” and “I’m sorry.”
“We have friends who have pediatricians and obstetricians still tell them you don’t have to bring the baby home. Even 28 years ago, this was kind of the norm,” Sue said.
Nearly 28 years later, the family is working to give new families with babies with Down syndrome a head start and high aspirations.
“We’re trying to help the parents to celebrate the baby and to take that outlook to the world. What my husband and I have found is that the face that you put to the world is the face that the world accepts,” Sue said. Now parents are “so much more hopeful and so much more optimistic and ready for this challenge.”
In 2014, Brittany started Brittany’s Baskets of Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to putting new parents on the right track, giving them baskets full of essentials like blankets, lotions, hand-knit sweaters and copies of Babies with Down Syndrome, a book Sue likened to a “bible” in helping raise Brittany.
Since they began, the team has been laying the groundwork for the nonprofit, which took off last year.
“I like to see my family supporting me all the way through,” Brittany said.
Since October 2016, 319 baskets have been sent to families in 46 states all over the country, Rocky said.
Ashley Asti, the nonprofit’s secretary and board member, first teamed up with Brittany in 2014. She had heard about Brittany’s nonprofit and invited her to speak at a natural health seminar she was hosting, and they just “clicked.”
Eventually, she joined Brittany’s Self-Determination care team as part of a state initiative with Office for People with Developmental Disabilities that allows those with developmental disabilities to outline their own level and goals for care.
Soon, Asti became an integral part of not only Brittany’s support team, but also her new nonprofit venture by spearheading public relations and social media. She also adds in baby creams into the baskets from her own natural cosmetics company.
By Friday, Brittany and the team had prepared a basket to be hand-delivered to a 7-month old baby girl with Down syndrome the next day in Oceanside. It was their first hand delivery to a Long Island family.
When Brittany isn’t busy crafting customized baskets at packing parties, since she considers herself a “party girl,” she can be found studying the arts at Hofstra University, as part of an educationalprogram for those with developmental disabilities. She also volunteers at the food pantry at St. Hugh’s of Lincoln church in Huntington Station and sings in the chorus for the church’s theater company’s rendition of “Annie,” among other productions.