Second annual Rhinestones and Rodeo benefits Down Country

Close to 600 people attended a local fundraiser for Down Country at the Ambiance Saturday evening.

Close to 600 people attended a local fundraiser for Down Country at the Ambiance Saturday evening.

Co-Founder Kate Dougherty beamed with excitement during the event that brought in more than double the amount from last year's event.

The night included food stations, inspirational speakers and an art auction with artwork from local families of the differently abled.

Down Country is a local non-profit that raises money to send Tri-State families and professionals to national conferences on the differently abled and exceptionally gifted issues. Down Country also works to bring nationally recognized speakers on special needs to the Tri-States and raise awareness on the limitless possibilities for individuals with special needs.

Saturday night also included an announcement about the National Down Syndrome Congress Convention, in Denver, Co. spotlighting children with disabilities.

Down Country gave out scholarships to 53 families from the Tri-State area who will attend that conference in July as well as others throughout the year. Scholarships are only available to Tri-State area professionals and/or families and require attendees to "pay forward" the information.

Down Country also honored its 2012 Conference attendees including Mike Vaia, Katie Maddox, Kent & Reta Richmond, Chuck & Michelle Todd and Angie Eichor. They will be "paying it forward" by attending conferences all over the country and Canada including The American Occupational Therapist Association in San Diego, California and the American Cerebral Palsy Conference in Toronto, Canada.

Down Country- 2013 "I Learn" Conference Attendees:

Nicole A. Schaffnit M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech language pathologist. She and her husband, Kevin, have three children: Annabelle (9), Andrea (7), and Parker (2). They reside near Mendon, Illinois. Nicole grew up in Ursa, IL and is a graduate of Unity High School. She obtained her Bachelor and Master degrees in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Western Illinois University. Her professional career began at Central - Pettibone Elementary, and then later enjoyed working at the brand new Veterans Elementary in Hannibal, MO. Currently, she is a self -employed speech language pathologist with Mendon School District and also provides Early Intervention Therapy through Child and Family Connections. 2Cute 2Talk is her private practice name. She maintains certification and membership with American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA).

John & Jaime Hoerr have been married for 11 years and they are the parents to three boys, Jack (9), Wyatt (6), and Ryan (5). Jaime, and their oldest son, Jack, both have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ADHD. Jaime is a Title One Aide at the Palmyra Elementary School. She attended Hannibal LaGrange University where she studied Elementary Education. Prior to her returning to the education field, she was a stay at home mother for eight years. As a Title One Aide, Jaime provides Reading and Math Interventions to students who are struggling with learning the material in a regular classroom setting. Jaime feels that she is able to use her own learning struggles to come up with individualized ways of teaching children who are not " in the box" learners. The most rewarding aspect of her job is seeing the self- confidence students' gain as they master skills that have been a struggle for them to understand.

As a parent, she understands first- hand the task of raising children in an ever expanding and rapidly changing world. She and her husband John, take each season of their boys development as they come and celebrate the diversity each of their boys bring to their family.

Dee Friye has been a Pre-K teacher at the Early Childhood and Family Center, part of the Quincy Public Schools, for the past 20 years. Dee taught Pre-K for 15 years. While working on her Master's in Early Childhood Special Education, Dee had the opportunity to begin teaching a blended early childhood special education classroom, which she has now done for the past 5 years. Dee works with children of all different abilities. Dee has a passion for working with children who learn outside of the box and finding ways to reach all children. Dee and her husband, Todd have lived in Quincy for the past 21 years and they have two sons, Austin, who is 18 and Logan, who is 15.

Brad and Abby Henry reside in Mt. Sterling, IL with their three children: Jocelyn (7 1/2 years old), Micah (5), and Jonah (1). Brad is Vice President of Timewell Drainage Products in Timewell, IL, and Abby works as a physical therapist, working mostly in home health. When they are not busy chasing around their kids or providing parent taxi service to their activities, Brad and Abby are very involved in various community and church organizations. Jocelyn and Micah attend Brown County Elementary School, while Jonah holds down the fort at home.

Jocelyn was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome at 12 weeks. She is now a second grader who enjoys dance class, horseback riding, watching TV, and eating brownies. She loves hugging friends at school and being spoiled rotten by her grandparents. Through Jocelyn, Brad and Abby have been introduced to people, research, and issues they would never have experienced otherwise. Their hope is to pass along these, as well as future, experiences, to gain greater acceptance and understanding of those with special needs, particularly in small communities like the one in which they live.

Martha Hogge is a second grade teacher at St. Peter School. Martha is in her 15th year at St. Peter School in Quincy, IL. Martha has a true passion for reading, technology, and helping kids to be the best they can be. She loves being able to work in a Catholic school and encouraging every child to let God's light shine through them. Martha is married to Dave and they have two children who attend St. Peter School (Katie, a 5th grader and Ben in 1st grade). Two dogs round out their happy home, Sadie, a sheltie and Lucy, a cocker spaniel. Many stories about kids and dogs are shared on a daily basis with her second family, her school kids. Martha is currently in the process of obtaining her Master's degree in Elementary Administration.

Katie Dames is an independently contracted speech-language pathologist in Northeast Missouri. Her primary treatment focus includes the severely disabled population ages 5-21 years. Katie is a member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association and serves on ASHA's special interest division 12: Alternative and Augmentative Communication. Katie's areas of professional interest include Autism and successful implementation of Augmentative Communication Devices for non-verbal children. Katie and her husband Al live outside of Palmyra and have two children, Olivia (age 2) and Brylee (age1). Katie has a passion for integrating technology and verbal communication so all children may have a voice.

Greg and Jennifer Leftwich met in 6th grade and graduated from Canton High School in 1985. Jennifer attended Culver Stockton College where she received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary and Special Education. Jennifer received her Master's in Education from Quincy University in 1998 with an emphasis in working with emotionally challenged students. In 1999, she took a position at Palmyra Middle School as a special education teacher. Jennifer presently speaks to education classes at area colleges on the joys of teaching unique children, and serves on the Board for Marion County Services for the Developmentally Disabled and the board of Directors for Camp Callahan, a camp for differently abled children and adults, where she was employed for 8 years and developed her interest in working with children with unique gifts.

Greg attended the Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy, receiving an Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice from Mineral Area College, and a commission as a Missouri State Highway Patrolman. Greg was promoted to Corporal in 1996 and later, Sergeant in 1999. Greg currently serves as the zone supervisor of Marion and Ralls Counties, is a defensive driving instructor at the patrol academy, serves as an accident reconstructionist, and also works the areas waterways under the newly developed Marine Operations Division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Greg and Jennifer have 3 children: Bailey, a freshman at Truman State University who is interested in the medical field and was recently inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa, a National Leadership Honor Society; Taylor, a junior at Palmyra High School, active in varsity golf, basketball, and cross country, student council, and National Honor Society; and Gage, 13, who attends Mississippi Valley State School in Hannibal, and has an infectious smile that can light up a room.

Chris & Larinee Dennis. Chris, a native of mid-Missouri, has worked in the field of education for 10 years as a special education paraprofessional, a middle school communication arts and mathematics classroom teacher, and an early childhood center director. He is currently working outside the field of education as he pursues a Master of Science degree in Education from Hannibal-LaGrange University. Larinee, a Hannibal-native, has also worked in the field of education for 10 years as an elementary and middle school classroom teacher and since 2008 as an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Hannibal-LaGrange University. She earned her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education from Hannibal-LaGrange College, a Master's degree in Teaching and Learning from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and is currently working on her dissertation to complete a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from New Mexico State University. Chris and Larinee Dennis live in Hannibal, MO with their two-year-old son Jachin.

Andrew & Laura Mays are the proud parents to two very active little boys, Jacob (2) and Logan (10 mo.) They live in Quincy. Logan was born with an extra chromosome and multiple congenital heart defects. Two holes in Logan's heart were closed surgically in June, 2012 and he is doing great. When not chasing Jake and Logan around the house Andrew is an attorney at Mays, Walden & Anastas, P.C. and Laura is the owner of LamaWorks, an online wedding invitation and custom stationery boutique. Before opening LamaWorks, Laura worked at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago as a biomedical engineer in the gait lab working with children with cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Laura hopes to learn more about fine and gross motor development and educate both families and therapists on current research in these areas. Andrew also serves the Quincy area as a member of the Transitions Association Board. Andrew and Laura want to increase awareness in the community about the true potential of children with disabilities.

Chris & Jill Reffett family: Chris is the principal of the Camp Point Central Middle School and District-wide Special Education Coordinator. Jill is the west central area director of Special Olympics Illinois. Little Miss RayLee(3) was born with Down Syndrome and she attends Early Childhood and Family Center and not much slows her down. Miss Sophie (2), is still at home with Grammie/BaBa Ding, but starting school soon, when she turns 3 in March. The Reffetts' are working to adopt a little girl with Down syndrome from Russia, they have great faith that the recent political situation in Russia will not stop them from bringing her home. They are so ready to attend the National Down Syndrome Congress Conference to learn more about the ever-changing landscape of educational and physical developments for all kiddos of all abilities.