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Algonquin mother's letter about Down syndrome turns into Crystal Lake beach party benefit

CRYSTAL LAKEAlgonquin resident Kristen Rumphol only wanted to spread the word and educate others about people with special needs.

“Parents, please educate your children!” Rumphol wrote in a passionate letter published June 2 on her Facebook page. “Tell your children that children with special needs want the same thing they do, they want to be accepted.”

Rumphol felt compelled to write her letter, in which she described difficulties that her 11-year-old son, Brandon, had connecting with other children, after she said she watched three separate days as kids at the Algonquin public pool shunned her son. 

Brandon has Down syndrome, one of the most common genetic disorder in America where children are born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome, which inhibits physical and mental development.

Specifically, Brandon has a rarer form of the disorder called translocation Down syndrome, which means he only has an extra part of chromosome 21.

In her letter, Rumphol explained that Brandon is classified as “nonverbal” and can be difficult to understand, which is why he would introduce himself to other children with a “Hi, boy” or “Hi, girl.” 

“Every single time the kids would either look at him weird and say nothing or just swim away,” Rumphol wrote. “Brandon would look back at me with a look of disappointment. Not understanding why the kids were being mean to him.”

The original letter, which has since gone viral, has close to 16,000 shares and has generated responses from across the country.

Rumphol said she and her family have received thousands of supportive messages, gift baskets and play date invitations from families offering to take Brandon with them to the pool. 

“The response has just been absolutely overwhelming,” Rumphol said.

When Shannon Jones saw the letter circulating around social media, she remembered her late uncle, who lived with Down syndrome until he passed away nine years ago.

She didn’t need to know the Rumphols personally to feel connected to their story.

“It was something that hit home for me. I’ve seen it firsthand,” said Jones, an 18-year-old Crystal Lake resident. “That’s why, no hesitation, I was like, ‘Hey, this is something I’ve got to do.’ “

Jones called up former co-workers and friends to help organize a party for Brandon on Friday at Crystal Lake’s Main Beach. Local establishments donated food, decorations, supplies and gift cards.

Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant donated chips and salsa; Pinemoor Pizza supplied tablecloths, napkins and utensils; and other stores, such as Jewel-Osco of Crystal Lake and a Cary-based State Farm office, contribute further to the event.

By the time Friday rolled around, the beach day looked more like an extravagant birthday celebration, with orange balloons marking the party, and gifts, food, drinks and toys spread across several picnic tables. More than 50 people had stopped by to meet Brandon and his family in the first 90 minutes of the four-hour party.

Brandon, however, was preoccupied with others things – laughing and playing with new friends and his father in the water, not far offshore, for the first few hours of the day.

“He gets overwhelmed sometimes with all the people, but he’s just so happy he has friends to play with,” Rumphol said. “It’s a complete 180 for him. Just an outpouring of love.”

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