This story was writen by Frances Petrowski, Gina’s mother.

Gina Petrowski was born in Gimli, MB on August 30, 1990. She has two older brothers, Wes and Jake. When Gina was a week old we found out that she had Down syndrome.

Immediately I wanted to gather information on Down syndrome so I joined the Manitoba Down Syndrome Society. It was the best board I have ever been on. I had so much fun and we accomplished so much. It was – and still is – important for me to connect with other parents to gain support and updated information (especially as related to inclusion).

When Gina was growing up I had a home daycare that enabled me to be at home with her but she still had socialization with other kids.

Still, I put Gina into daycare two afternoons a week the year before she started school so that she would know some of the kids she would be going to school with. The daycare was awesome in the way of inclusion and support.

Gina attended the same school as her siblings. The most negative experience was when Gina was to start school and a comment filtered back to me that a mom didn’t want her daughter in the same class as Gina. The schools were always supportive with a few teachers exceptionally assuring me that inclusion would happen for Gina. They did this by having high expectations, and assisting Gina engage in extra clubs and programs in the school.

Gina graduated with her peers but stayed in school for a couple of years to do some work experience at four different locations in town. I joined the Parent Advisory Councils to advocate when needed and to make sure there were no budget cuts to special needs funding. I attended many meetings over the years to advocate for inclusion and adequate funding. Community inclusion experiences were positive. Gina was a 4H member for many years. It was a great small group and Gina completed numerous projects. Gina is an altar server at our church and has been since she was very young. She is very serious about this job and her church community loves her.

Gina is now in a workshop facility that does recycling and she also helps out at a local grocery store and at a second-hand store once a week. Our huge challenge now is where Gina will live inclusively. Our small community is great but not everyone understands inclusion and still sees segregation as an acceptable practice. Our idea is quite different. Our values were reinforced and expanded while attending our first Values, Vision, and Action Workshop two years ago in Winnipeg organized by CACL.

There were a few “aha” moments.

One phrase that stands out for me and I use repeatedly to educate others is “Are they magnets? Do they all have to work together and live together?” This catch phrase helps keep me focused while I am searching and struggling to make her future more inclusive. I enjoyed connecting with other parents and seeing how they are helping their kids live more inclusive lives. We enjoyed the workshop so much that we attended again this year. We all need another “shot in the arm” to keep us going and connected!

Frances and Joe Petrowski live in Gimli, MB and have three wonderful children. When not working as an administrative assistant at the Gimli High School, Frances ‘lives’ to garden, enjoys taking pictures, and loves playing with her new grandson.