Ruby's Rainbow

Words by Mary Alayne B. Long

Photos provided by Ruby's Rainbow

 

In 2010, Liz Conway Plachta and her husband Tim were living an ordinary life in Texas with their two-year-old daughter Ella Mae. Then came Ruby—and all of their lives took an extraordinary turn.

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Born with Down syndrome—or as Liz likes to say, “rockin’ an extra chromosome”—Ruby brought a whole new kind of joy to her family. And no one could have imagined how a tiny little girl would have such a huge impact on so many others.

Ruby’s diagnosis did not change her family’s expectations for her life. They were committed to making sure she had the same opportunities as Ella Mae to grow up and become a contributing member of society. Desperate for knowledge on Down syndrome, Liz began reading everything she could get her hands on. As she worked her way through the local library and then elsewhere for expertise on the subject, she couldn’t find what she was seeking. None of the information she read correctly depicted her child’s life, and nothing offered any kind of advice for adults living with DS.

She explains, “Early intervention is great, but I found that help would drop off dramatically as Ruby grew. In most cases it ended completely when their time in high school was over.”
Like most parents, Liz and Tim wanted to plan for their children’s future, but they didn’t like what they saw. Tim had taught special education for years, and even he was at a loss for programs for Ruby during her post-secondary education.

Liz was determined to make a change and one day announced to her husband, “I think I want to help someone with Down syndrome go to college.” From that simple proclamation, Ruby’s Rainbow began. The mission of Ruby’s Rainbow is to grant scholarships to DS adults seeking post-secondary education, enrichment, or vocational classes. Liz and Tim seek to create awareness of the capabilities of these amazing individuals and help them achieve their dreams of higher education. Since 2012, Ruby’s Rainbow has raised more than $135,000, granted over 156 scholarships, and now has relationships with some 250 post-secondary programs. Their goal is not only to help adults with DS, but also to show the rest of the world that these incredible people are just like everybody else. Liz says, “They simply want to be the best versions of themselves they can be, and we want to do what we can to help them gain the independence and confidence to be successful in the world.”

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Ruby attends school in a regular classroom and is fully included in all of the day-to-day lessons. “Ruby has determination, fire, and grit. She has her own likes and dislikes, just as any other kid has,” adds Liz, who takes time to speak to the children at the beginning of each school year. She wants each student to know that Ruby is a bright, fun, and friendly girl who wants to learn and play like everyone else in the class. She also takes the time to send letters home with each classmate for their parents to read, but her dearest hope is that one day, she won’t have to.

Ruby may not be old enough to understand exactly how her life inspired such an amazing movement, but I am; and I know there’s much more than a pot of gold at the end of her beautiful rainbow.

To learn more about Ruby’s Rainbow, visit rubysrainbow.org. You can also join Good Grit Magazine in supporting Ruby’s Rainbow as we donate $10 for each subscription purchased using the checkout code RUBY2017.