Arrow-right Camera


Diagnosis: You’re not alone

Marissa Roberts, 6, front left, and Emma Villelli, 3, with their mothers, Cheryl Roberts, back left, and Susan Villelli, visit the Coeur d’Alene Library on April 10.  (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Marissa Roberts, 6, front left, and Emma Villelli, 3, with their mothers, Cheryl Roberts, back left, and Susan Villelli, visit the Coeur d’Alene Library on April 10. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

“We’re here to connect the dots and provide answers to the ‘what’s next?’ question that immediately comes to mind after being given a Down syndrome diagnosis,” Susan Villelli said.

Villelli and Cheryl Roberts, both mothers of children with Down syndrome, are co-founders of a new group, Down Syndrome Connections, or DS Connections for short.

Hayden Lake resident Villelli and Coeur d’Alene resident Roberts envision a world in which all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, realize their life aspirations, and become valued members of welcoming communities.

“We want to create a family-friendly monthly meeting where family and friends of people with a DS diagnosis can connect,” Villelli said.

Each month, the mothers hope to exchange information on professional resources, share real-life experiences, and simply connect DS families and friends with one another.

“Until now, there has not been a supportive group of this type in either Spokane or Coeur d’Alene,” Villelli said. According to the National Down Syndrome Society Web site, Down syndrome is the most commonly identified cause of cognitive impairment, and it occurs in about one in 733 births in the United States.

Down syndrome occurs when an individual has three, rather than two, copies of chromosome 21 – an additional genetic material that alters the course of fetus development. Researchers are making great strides in identifying the genes on chromosome 21 that cause the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.

Quality educational programs, a stimulating home environment, good health care, and positive support from family, friends and the community enable people with Down syndrome to develop their full potential and lead fulfilling lives, according to the Web site.

“Many feel strongly that it will be possible to improve, correct or prevent many of the problems associated with the condition in the future,” Villelli said.

Villelli and Roberts met in December 2005, immediately making a connection. Villelli had the public relations and marketing experience, while Roberts had the contacts. Villelli decided to start DS Connections and invited Roberts to join her.

DS Connections had 14 mothers and fathers, four grandparents and two therapists from Idaho and Washington attend its first meeting.

DS Connections meets the third Saturday of each month from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at American Universal Storage’s conference room, just west of Atlas Road on Prairie Avenue in Hayden.

Laura Umthun

Skate park gets green light

Skateboarding enthusiasts packed the Liberty Lake City Council chambers Tuesday night to see the council approve construction of a new skate park inside Pavillion Park. Construction is expected to start immediately.

The council voted unanimously, with Judi Owens and Dave Crump absent, to award the bid for site work and a concrete slab to Peplinski Construction and the bid for the modular facilities to White Dog Construction. The total cost of the project will be $176,909.

“Can you refresh our memory on what we put in the budget?” asked Councilman Neal Olander.

The city received $93,000 in state and county grants for the project, said community development director Doug Smith. Some private, community donations were also received. “Our cost out of the general fund would be $82,000, which we have budgeted,” Smith said.

The skate park was one of two park projects to survive in the lean 2009 budget because the grants had already been received. The park has been on the drawing board for nearly three years. The park will include rails, ramps and other features for jumps and tricks.

“Kids, you’re going to have a skate park this summer,” Mayor Wendy Van Orman said after the vote as the crowd burst into applause. Some young skateboarders pumped their fists while a few shouted, “Whoo-hoo!”

Nina Culver

Bus bench sponsors sought

The wait at bus stops will become a little more comfortable for Citylink riders if a Coeur d’Alene committee has its way.

As part of the bus bench program, the volunteer group is attempting to find sponsors for about 140 benches to be built and installed on both sides of the street at the 90 stops along the 200-plus miles of Citylink routes.

The public transportation system, which was formed in 2005 and serves much of Kootenai County and part of Benewah County, has seen its ridership steadily increase over the last year, serving about 40,000 riders a month and more than 500,000 round trips in 2008.

And sometimes, especially during winter months, those riders have to stand in the open, facing the elements for a long time.

“This is something we can do as private citizens to take care of our community,” said Craig Wilcox, a financial planner with D.A. Davidson and Co. who also serves as a public transportation advisory group member of the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is dedicated to ensuring continuous, cooperative and coordinated transportation planning for Kootenai County. “People are just standing around waiting for the bus. And if we want to be proactive about the growth in the area and containing urban sprawl and reducing traffic problems, this is a part of that.”

While most cities have codes prohibiting displays at bus stops, including Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, the KMPO subcommittee benches won’t have any sort of advertisements such as phone numbers or Web sites listed. Instead, the sponsor’s name or business will be engraved on an approximately 1-foot-square plaque and placed on the bench back. So far, the city of Coeur d’Alene has approved the donor-funded benches, which will be manufactured locally, and installation by Kiwanis Club members could begin this spring.

“We tried to make them as visually appealing as possible,” Wilcox explained. “This is a public service; this is not an advertisement. It’s a sponsorship, and that’s our little loophole.”

Five-year bench sponsorships are available for $600 to $1,000, depending on the location, and will be available in a variety of color schemes, said Andrew Murphy, assistant manager with Citylink Transit. As soon as the subcommittee has 30 sponsors sign up, the local manufacturer will go into production, he said. “It is hoped to install a bench at each of the 90 Citylink bus stops starting in April 2009,” he said, adding that Citylink is not a part of the Coeur d’Alene Casino, which is a common misconception, but is a public transportation company.

“We hope to provide better amenities for all public transportation riders in the community. This is the first step in that direction,” he offered. The next phase in improving the bus route could include shelters at some stops, Murphy said.

Jacob Livingston


There is one comment on this story »