By Terrionna Brockman
He [Jorel] understands life and that’s what we’re focusing on with him—to be able to be part of the community, develop his social skills—to be able to survive. I want him to be part of the world.
Maritza Alvarado is a mother and proponent for Special Olympics Southern California. She knows first-hand the impact it has not only on her eight-year-old son, Jorel, but her whole family.
Their journey to Special Olympics began when Jorel was two-years old. Eager to get her son involved, Jorel was enrolled as a Young Athlete, igniting his love for sports. Young Athletes served as the foundation that Jorel needed for his growth and development.
Having a child with Down syndrome came as a shock to Maritza and her husband. They didn’t understand what this meant for them. After Jorel was diagnosed with Down syndrome, the family was also told that he was deaf, but doctors later found that he would have access to sound. Maritza describes how she had to mourn the child that she thought she was having in order to embrace the new child.
“At the beginning, as a parent, you don’t know what’s coming. You know there are going to be challenges, but you don’t know how ‘bad’ they are going to be,” she shared.
The love Maritza has for her son is indescribable. She lights up when speaking of Jorel’s first Young Athletes session over six years ago, “He couldn’t even walk! He was crawling! We didn’t miss one class, and it was so comforting to see other parents that were in the same situation as us.”
Their family was extended that day. They were welcomed into a supportive and inclusive community, void of societal limitations. No one was telling them that Jorel “could not” or “would not.” They were in a place where their son could thrive and defy odds.
When asked what sports he likes to play, Jorel enthusiastically stated, “basketball, jumping, and swimming!” When at home, Jorel enjoys dancing, watching movies, and playing with his dog, Angel. Maritza added that he has terrific coordination and also loves soccer and baseball.
“He understands life and that’s what we’re focusing on with him—to be able to be part of the community, develop his social skills—to be able to survive. I want him to be part of the world,” she said. “Sometimes I forget that he has a disability! We have the same rules for him as we did with my older children. He has chores here and is very structured.”
Maritza believes that children with Down syndrome are placed in your life for a reason, stating that in her family’s case, Jorel humbled them. “We put all the priorities in a different order, and we understand how important it is to have a family that supports a child with a disability,” she said. “My kids developed a love for other kids. My son enrolled to be a volunteer at Special Olympics. My daughter helps in church with kids. Since Jorel was born, they wanted to make a difference. They started making sure that the ‘R-Word’ [retard] wasn’t used in school. My kids started being advocates for their own brother. He brought a lot of value to our family.”
Jorel is an inspiration and motivator to his family and those around him. He is a happy-go-lucky kid with a bold personality. His willingness to try and his strong will to succeed are characteristics of a true champion, and with a winner’s mindset, there are plenty of hard-earned gold medals in Jorel’s future as a Special Olympics athlete.
Maritza offers advice to parents stating that, “Nothing is going to be given to you that you cannot manage. You will be able to manage your child. Nobody knows your child better than you. Don’t allow anybody to tell you otherwise. Don’t give up and advocate for your child one-hundred percent—just love your child as they come. Don’t expect. Let it happen because they will surprise you. Don’t give up on your child.”