VALPARAISO | There was no stopping the fun Friday night as Chasing Dreams families launched blue and yellow balloons in the sky, danced to pop music and welcomed superheroes.
"We've invited superheroes in costume to come because we think all our children are superheroes," Valparaiso resident Denise Babjak said.
The event, held at Shorewood Forest Clubhouse, was to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day.
Babjak is founder of Chasing Dreams, a 2-year-old organization and center designed to provide support and services to children with Down syndrome.
The group earlier Friday provided educational videos and books to six area schools to familiarize students and instructors about Down syndrome.
"We are trying to let them know why those with Down syndrome are different but not that different," Babjak said.
Babjak, whose daughter, Lainy, 5, was diagnosed with Down syndrome, hugged her mom then socialized with others as families arrived at the event.
Both Babjak and her daughter wore a T-shirts with 3/21 which symbolizes the third copy of the 21st chromosome of those born with Down syndrome, Babjak said.
Chasing Dreams, which now has 50 area families, was formed by Babjak because there were services in Chicago but not Northwest Indiana.
"We felt for our needs we needed to go outside Northwest Indiana so we decided to bring it here," Babjak said.
The first meetings were held in Babjak's basement.
The group continued to grow, with the assistance of fundraisers and community support, and a year ago services were moved to a former parochial school on Chicago Street.
Services, including a variety of free classes and programs at the center, have proven a blessing for Emily Lammers, a Crown Point mom of three.
Her middle daughter, Elise, 2, was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
The Lammers family, including her husband, Steven, came to the event to socialize and have a fun night out.
"We come to tons of things including play dates and therapy groups. It's a family atmosphere," Emily Lammers said.
The group has grown and Lammers and other members are trying to get the word out that such an organization and its free services exist.
"We're working hard to tell everyone we're here," Lammers said.
Misconceptions still exist about Down syndrome, with one of the biggest that those diagnosed with it have limitations about what they can do in life, both women said.
Until as recently as 15 years ago, many children were placed in institutions to help them and their families cope with the various challenges, Babjak said.
But research has shown children with mid- to higher-levels of Down syndrome can graduate from high school and college, attain productive jobs and live self-sufficiently, Babjak said.
"We don't know what they are capable of and Chasing Dreams is a great place to start," Lammers said.
For more information, call 219-299-9049 or go to chasingdreams.org.