When her daughter, Mary Ann, was born with a developmental disability 37 years ago, Maureen Gallagher of Needham said she found herself “thrust into a world I hadn’t been aware of previously.”
Her subsequent volunteerism led to a career that includes the last 10 years as executive director of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress. In recognition of Gallagher’s vision, leadership, and advocacy, the National Down Syndrome Society presented her last month with a Champion of Change Award as Ambassador of the Year.
The awards luncheon took place during the National Down Syndrome Society’s annual Buddy Walk on Washington in Washington, D.C. The event was attended by more than 400 people who also advocated for legislative advances.
“It’s very meaningful at this point in my career to know that the work I do helps my daughter, families of MDSC, and the entire community of people with Down syndrome and developmental disabilities,” Gallagher said. “Although I received the award, I feel it reflects on the entire organization – how hard we’ve worked, how far we’ve come, and how much more there is to do.”
During Gallagher’s tenure, the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress has grown in size and scope to include the Parent’s First Call Program, a statewide volunteer group of parent mentors available 24/7 which has been replicated at 17 organizations nationwide; two major annual conferences; the Buddy Walk promoting acceptance and inclusion; the Self-Advocates Program for teens and adults with Down syndrome; and Your Next Star employment campaign.
In 2014, the organization held its first Down Syndrome Advocacy Day at the State House, and it has become an annual event. In addition, Gallagher has spearheaded public policy efforts that helped lead to the passage of the federal ABLE Act and landmark state laws such as the Down Syndrome Information Act, the Real Lives Bill, National Background Check Bill, and the Organ Transplant Non-Discrimination Bill.
While she is “proud and grateful” for these accomplishments, Gallagher said challenges remain.
“For me,” she said, “it’s about ensuring that families have the information, support, and resources to help their loved ones self-advocate for every opportunity for the meaningful and fulfilling life which they’re so deserving of.”
Cindy Cantrell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.