ST. ANSGAR, Iowa – Two young girls, both with disabilities have found a new friendship that brings out the very best in each other. Kara (4) and Erica (14), both are diagnosed with Down syndrome. Each have their own struggles. Kara’s main struggle is her verbal skills.
“Kara has been using sign since she was very little, but for some reason, Kara just didn’t see a reason to verbally communicate,” says Erica and Kara’s Speech Pathologist, Shirley Crippen.
Erica looks for more confidence. Crippen had an idea that would benefit them both.
” I asked Erica if she would be willing to help mentor Kara, and of course Erica said yes,” says Crippen.
The two immediately hit it off.
“The first time Erica came in and met Kara, it was just an automatic connection, kind of a magnet thing,” says Erica’s Mom, Colleen Hollatz.
Kara seemed to look up to Erica as a mentor right away, and it didn’t take long before Erica helped find her newfound friend’s voice.
“They sat down and started playing. Erica would tell Kara to say her words and Kara would! So, it was really neat to see,” says Hollatz.
“Where Erica is like, you know use your words Kara, and it pushes Kara to verbally communicate a little bit more,” says Kara’s Mom Katie Venechuk.
These sessions also benefit Erica.
“She’s gaining confidence. She is one that has always been shy, and this has been really helpful for her with that,” says Hollatz.
Now, Erica is taking that confidence and putting it to use. She is helping Shirley teach the preschoolers sign language so they can communicate with Kara.
“The first time she came over and was in front of the classroom, she would hide her eyes and be very shy, not anymore,” says Crippen.
Now, Crippen tells us, she and the students look forward to “Erica Tuesdays”.
These families see the benefit for everyone participating in this program, and encourage other school districts to follow in their footsteps.
“It was meant for the two of them. For Erica to mentor Kara and it had a life of its own and they started teaching the rest of the kids. It’s only gotten better,” says Hollatz.