AUSTIN - This Tuesday is World Down Syndrome Day, which happens on March 21 (or 3-21). This number combination stands for and celebrates the third copy of the 21st chromosome people with Down Syndrome have. One Austin family is hoping to make a difference during this unique day.
Liz Plachta grew up in Texas before meeting her husband Tim Plachta in San Diego. These two moved back about 11 years ago, now married with two kids. Their first daughter Ella Mae is 8 years old, and their second daughter, Ruby, is 6 years old. Their youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome.
"I always say she came quick, tiny and rocking an extra chromosome," Liz Plachta said. "I just knew it was going to change and rock our world for the better."
Very early on in raising Ruby, Liz Plachta knew her second daughter had a big personality.
"I quickly realized that she had that independence already at a very young age," Liz Plachta said. "We were instantly super inspired by her sweet spirit and determination. I really wanted to show the world just how cool and capable she was just as she showed me every day."
So about six months into Ruby's life, Liz Plachta posed a question to her husband.
"I said, 'I think I want to help somebody with Down syndrome go to college,'" Liz Plachta said.
"I remember looking at her and asking if people with Down syndrome really go to college," Tim Plachta said. "And she said that she didn't know but that she thought we should find out."
Liz Plachta quickly found out that some children with Down syndrome have the capability to go to college and find their independence. With this in mind, Liz Plachta created Ruby's Rainbow, a non-profit organization created to help people with Down syndrome pursue upper-level education - including college.
"There's so much stuff for the little guys, but we really wanted to know what happens in the future," Liz Plachta said. "We are all lifelong learners. We all continue to learn and grow and better ourselves throughout our entire lifetimes. It's not different for people with Down syndrome.
Liz Plachta said the initial goal for her organization was to raise enough money for one $2,000 scholarship. During that first year, she ended up raising 11 $2,000 scholarships, far exceeding expectations.
"This made us realize there was a need for this support," Liz Plachta said. "People with Down syndrome are going to college and they're really doing it."
Now five years later, Liz Plachta's non-profit has been able to grant nearly $300,000 to more than 100 people with Down syndrome in Texas and across the nation.
"When you expect a certain level of independence from them at an early age, I think that can be helpful," Tim Plachta said. "We have recipients of our scholarships that drive. They work full-time jobs. They have apartments of their own. They pay their own bills."
Tim Plachta also said as a parent, Ruby has taught him more than he realized was going to happen.
"It's really eye-opening what she's done for our family," Tim Plachta said. "She's turned us on to a different level of compassion."
With World Down Syndrome Day taking place on Tuesday, March 21, The Plachtas are asking people to donate $21, pledge to be kind and then share it with three friends. They hope this allows them to reach $100,000 in scholarships.
To learn more about Ruby's story or how you can donate to Ruby's Rainbow, you can visit rubysrainbow.org.
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