A photo of 3-year-old Ava McKelvey, of Mount Airy, and her 1-year-old brother Michael will scroll across the News Corporation Sony Screen in the heart of Times Square in New York City on Sept. 21.
Their image is among more than 200 photographs in a video to be shown as part of the National Down Syndrome Society's annual Times Square Video presentation.
The photo of Ava and her brother was selected from 1,000-plus entries in the society's worldwide call for photos.
The children's mother, Maggie McKelvey, said she and her husband learned Ava has Down syndrome shortly after her birth. Six professionals - including a nurse, an educator, two speech therapists, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist - from the Carroll County Infants and Toddlers Program came to work with Ava at home until she started preschool this spring. "They were a huge blessing to us," McKelvey said.
Now Ava is in preschool at Winfield Elementary and she is doing well, her mother said.
McKelvey said, "Since she was born I've been diligent about checking the NDSS website, so I knew about the contest and submitted a photo in May. I just found out the last week of July that she was one of those selected."
Photos in the video will highlight children, teens and adults with Down syndrome working, playing and learning alongside friends and family, with a goal of promoting the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome, the society's mission.
The video presentation in Times Square is an early kickoff for Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October. Immediately following the video, the 19th Annual Flagship Buddy Walk will take place in New York City.
"We are involved with the Frederick County Buddy Walk each year. Their flagship walk is the New York City walk and this year we are going to go," said McKelvey. "The walk is around Central Park. We have about 15 of us going."
McKelvey said many family members and friends will join them on the walk and they plan to spend the night before the walk in New York City.
This is Ava's fourth Buddy Walk, but her first one in New York City.
"This is the first year that Ava can walk," McKelvey said. "She just started walking in February at 32 months old."
McKelvey said when little brother Michael took his first steps and everyone clapped for him, Ava decided it was time for her to walk too. "She could do it," McKelvey said with a laugh, "she just didn't want to.
"We are so excited that this is happening. She's such a happy little girl and she's made a difference in so many people's lives. She's a bright light and she's always there when someone needs a hug or needs to be talked to by a 3-year-old," McKelvey said.
McKelvey remembered a time when an older gentleman was sitting alone on a park bench. "He looked like he was feeling down," she said. "Ava scooted over to him and started talking and the smile on his face was wonderful."
Ava's dad, Matthew McKelvey, wrote in an email interview, "I have witnessed her bring families closer together and captivate the hearts of strangers. Her fearless social attitude has enabled her to become her own best advocate. Ava loves playing with other children, but she is just as eager to sit next to an adult and start a conversation with, 'Hello! How was your day?'"
Ava's mom said her daughter is excited that "she is going to be on a really big TV. She likes TV, but I don't think she'll really realize it until she sees herself on the screen."
Maggie McKelvey said Ava and Michael are a typical brother and sister. "They love to go to the park, to go down slides and swing. They love music and movies and coloring, balls and just playing," she said.
She stays involved in advocacy through the Infants and Toddlers Program offered through Carroll County Public Schools. "If there's a new mom with a Down syndrome baby they sometimes ask me to talk to them," she said. "It's difficult when you first find out, but then you learn more."
Buddy Walk events will be held in more than 250 cities across the country, as well as select international locations. More than 2,000 walkers are expected to turn out for the New York Buddy Walk, which circles Central Park.
Last year, nearly $12 million was raised by 300,000 Buddy Walk participants worldwide.
"Words cannot express how proud I am of her," Matthew McKelvey wrote of his daughter. "The Buddy Walk is a fantastic way to bring wonderful people such as Ava to the front of the community. Attending one of these events leaves one with the truth that we are more alike than different."
"We don't separate her or give her limits in any way. If you don't give them limitations they might not have limits," Maggie McKelvey said of those with Down syndrome. "It might take them a little longer to learn something but they can do anything anyone else can do."