Nate worked behind one of the stations at Gerry’s Cafe in Arlington Heights, putting sandwiches together for the morning and lunchtime rush. But he wasn’t too busy to show off his colorful, mismatched socks to those in the dining area. And to his surprise, many of the patrons did too.

Today, March 21, is World Down Syndrome Day and at Gerry’s — named for Geralyn Wehmer, the aunt of one of the owners who had Down syndrome — the day is one of celebration. They joined in its Rock your Socks campaign with people around the world in raising awareness for individuals with Down syndrome.

“Let’s celebrate inclusion, rights and well-being for individuals with Down syndrome, just like these incredible team members,” says Natalie Griffin, a special education teacher who founded Gerry’s with Amy Philpott.

Patrons were encouraged to wear their “craziest socks” and receive some of Gerry’s popular soft serve ice cream. Why socks? Officials with Down Syndrome International, based in London, say socks get people talking.

“The idea is to start a conversation,” they say, “so when people ask you about your socks you can tell them, ‘I’m wearing them to raise awareness for Down syndrome.’ “

The United Nations established this global day of celebration in 2012, but people at Gerry’s have been celebrating inclusiveness since it opened, by bringing people together for a “cup of joy” and human interaction.

“We see abilities in our employees and progress. We see success,” Griffin says. “We see social engagement, active contributions to the cafe business and self confidence.

“We see the development of new peer relationships — and customer relationships,” she adds. “We see community members who want to come to Gerry’s Cafe to see our people. This is indeed worth celebrating.”


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