After a local Catholic Order of Foresters Agent approached them about life insurance 25 years ago, Mike and Terri Noe, members of St. Paul 1416, Doylestown, Ohio, knew they had found a special organization. “We got insurance for my whole family,” Mike said. Some of my friends got insurance through COF, too.” Mike and Terri understand the significance of faith, hope and charity, and they passed these values onto their daughters; one in particular, Katie, took them to heart.
Though significant, this story is about more than Katie’s infectious smile, volunteer activities and her selflessness. It’s proof that disability doesn’t have to mean unable.
Katie’s favorite place to volunteer is the food bank in Akron, Ohio, which you may recognize as the home of NBA star LeBron James. She also spends time at Medina Foodbank and Embrace Pregnancy Center; her whole week is focused on volunteering. When we visited, we volunteered with Katie at Feed Medina County (a food bank that distributes food and weekender bags to local children).
She felt like a superstar with a mini entourage. “You’re famous, aren’t you?” Kim, who has known Katie for 10 years and is one of her caretakers, asked. “Yes, I am!” Katie exclaimed. The team at the food bank not only appreciates Katie’s help but after working with her, also appreciates how much she has taught them about people with disabilities!
Katie, like any twenty-something, takes advantage of the opportunity to be involved in anything she can. She attends prom, via limo, with her fellow cheerleaders, all of whom are part of an all-Down syndrome squad – the only one in the United States. Many of her friends and family members have pursued careers that revolve around children with special needs. One of her sisters is a speech language pathologist. The oldest of three girls, Katie has also inspired people to volunteer with different organizations in the community.
She is active in her church, Prince of Peace, as an altar server and making sandwiches for the hungry and Christmas gift bags for developmentally disabled adults. When her grandfather passed away, she comforted her grandmother: “Don’t worry, Grandma. I will go to church with you!” So every Saturday, she takes her grandmother to Mass.
“This is embarrassing,” Katie says to her dad, Mike, who beams with so much pride and joy you almost need sunglasses. Her dad continues, “She’s an honorary Delta Gamma sorority sister,” at which point Katie strikes the DG pose. She’s the first Wadsworth High School student with Down syndrome to attend preschool through high school. She was awarded an Honorary Alumni Certificate from the University of Akron, the first of its kind, in August. (Usually people who have bachelor’s degrees earn these certificates.)
Community is important, almost vital, to Katie. As Mike explained, failure to thrive often kills those with Down syndrome. And Mike admits, it’s not an easy road. “We’re working to fill a void,” he says. Katie’s sisters are married, and though marriage likely isn’t in Katie’s future, her family wants to celebrate her major milestones. They’re planning a 30th birthday reception for Katie before which they’ll attend Mass and during which they’ll have a dj playing, among other aspects similar to a wedding reception. “If people embrace those with Down syndrome like my wife and I have, they’ll have an angel on earth,” Mike says.
Katie donates some of her time to The Giving Doll, an organization that aims to give faith, love, joy, hope and comfort to children worldwide at times of special need through the construction and distribution of handmade cloth dolls.1 “What’s our job, Katie?” Kim asks. “We stuff the dolls!” Katie says.
Kim’s daughter, Olivia, a fashion major at Kent State, is involved with Dress Up for Downs, an organization at the university whose mission is to bridge the gap between the fashion community and the Down syndrome community by creating clothing, funds and relationships.2 Annually, the organization sponsors a runway event especially for children with Downs syndrome and Olivia designed a special dress for Katie. Katie modeled the dress at a Dress Up for Downs event, walking the runway to none other than the Backstreet Boys, her all-time favorite musical group. Terri, Katie’s mom, is a master sewer and helps Katie with her wardrobe whenever she can. “It’s difficult to find clothes off the rack that fit people with Down syndrome,” Kim explained. “So having a custom-made dress from someone like Olivia means the world to her.”
There is “a lot of good out there,” Mike adds.
Mike emphasizes how pro-life means supporting and encouraging people like Katie. “She might not be a doctor or businesswoman, but she always brings happiness and love to people,” he explains. Katie doesn’t let Down syndrome define her; she defies it by living life to the fullest each and every day.
Article by Katlyn Gerken.