Rachel Danielsen loves to listen to music. “The Beatles are one of my favorite bands. Paul McCartney is one of my biggest, favorite, famous Beatles people,” she gushes. Her top songs? “All You Need Is Love,” “Baby I’m Amazed” and “Rocky Raccoon.”
“Did you know Ringo Starr is a stage name? His real name is Richard Starkey,” Rachel shares. “And Ringo is the Japanese word for apple.” It’s also the name of Rachel’s beloved dog.
“Her strength is communication. She’s very verbal,” says her mother, Lori Levy.
Listening to Rachel go on to describe her favorite musicals (“Lion King,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Matilda”) in detail, it’s easy to see that she has a gift for self-expression.
“I also like to write in my journals about things that come to my mind or whatever thoughts I have,” says Rachel. “Just freewriting.”
Journaling helps support Rachel’s mental health, Lori explains. Diagnosed with both Down syndrome and autism, Rachel takes medication and receives regular counseling for anxiety and mood stabilization.
She also has a variety of medical needs. Her vision is 20/70 with nystagmus, causing trouble with depth perception and daily tasks like stepping off a curb. Rachel also wears orthotic inserts and has orthostatic hypotension, meaning her blood pressure drops when she stands up.
As her caregivers, her parents need Respite to give them a much-needed break. “There have been times I’ve considered hospitalizing myself because I’m so worn out,” says Lori. “We don’t have any family in this area, so getting a break is very difficult for my husband and me. It’s very much appreciated.”
SOAR365 provides personalized care that they can trust. “Respite and Camp Baker have done a good job with her, they’re very communicative about medication and things that may occur there,” says Lori.
She notes that one staff member in particular has made a huge difference. “She knows Rachel, she’s worked with her, she knows her quirks, and she can get her out of a funk if needed. That continuity is so important and so hard to get.”
When Rachel’s not at Camp Baker, you can find her enjoying arts and crafts, reading Little Women, or cooking.
“I’m a great help in the kitchen,” says Rachel. “My specialty is scrambled eggs, and I make the best salads with my mom. We make casseroles. We make a lot of special cakes, and spaghetti and meatballs, my favorite Italian dish.”
“When I have enough courage to use knives on my own safely, I can cut my own vegetables and make my own salad,” she adds.
Rachel likes cooking so much, she sees it as a possible career path. “I’d like to see myself majoring in culinary arts. I’d like to work in an international or Greek restaurant. The restaurant in my local area called Taziki’s inspired me to work in a restaurant like that.”
But she doesn’t want to commit just yet. Rachel notes that she’d also like to “look into careers like being an anatomy professor at VCU and teaching people about the human body.” At 27 years old, it’s clear that Rachel is eager to learn new skills, and she has big goals.
Lori notes that “respite can be a steppingstone to more independence.” “Rachel will be doing a trial overnight at a group home soon,” says Lori, “And I am not as nervous as I would have been, had Rachel not had so many positive respite and camp experiences [with SOAR365].”
What does Rachel think of SOAR365’s Respite program? “I would recommend SOAR365 to a lot of my friends…folks who have Down syndrome and others, with and without autism,” she says. “My favorite thing to do there is interact with new people and make friends and socialize.”
Some of her preferred activities include learning to shop on a budget, playing with colorful stress balls and taking day trips to explore the community.
“I like to play games there, like Uno and Sorry, with my friends. Board games of all kinds. Monopoly is my preferred game,” she says. “I have a lot of nice friends I’ve made over the years there.”
And at Camp Baker, Rachel also gets to participate in many of her favorite creative activities, like art, music and theater. It helps make Respite feel like a home away from home.
“I love being at SOAR365,” says Rachel.
To learn more about Respite and our other programs for children and adults with disabilities, please visit soar365.org/find-support.
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