Self-Advocate Brings Important Message to Annual Gala

Austin Davenport, an Eagle Scout, is slated to speak at the 3rd annual Snowflakes & Diamonds Gala on January 31st in Paris. The event, which benefits the Red River Valley Down Syndrome Society, has become an evening of fun and fundraising for the community while bringing to light the capabilities of individuals with Down syndrome in the family, the school , the workplace and the community. The event’s title represents the fact that each and every person with Down syndrome is unique and beautiful.

This year’s pick of Davenport as guest speaker is representative of the message that the local Down syndrome organization strives to put forth. Davenport is a 1998 graduate of Lake Highlands High School in Richardson, Texas, where he was active in theater, choir, as well as visual arts. He attended Richland College, also in Dallas, where he continued his study of theater. Austin has performed in over twenty plays in the area. He has spoken encouragement as a self-advocate to many groups around the country and has served on the Boards of the National Down Syndrome Congress and the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas. He currently serves on the Program Advisory Committee at Special Care and Career Services which provides supported employment and serves on the Self Advocate Council of the National Down Syndrome Congress. Austin works full time at the law offices of Baker Botts in Dallas and lives on his own.

“Austin is a perfect example of what a person with Down syndrome can accomplish with the support of family and community,” said Deanna Tharpe, executive director of RRVDSS. “He is a great young man with all the qualities anyone would want in a child, a student, an employee. It just reiterates how truly important the intense support of family, opportunities in the community and the school system really are to persons with intellectual disabilities.” Tharpe went on to say, “It is a great honor to have Austin Davenport as our guest speaker this year at the gala. I do hope that the business community will be able to attend to hear him and to begin to understand what great contributions a person with Down syndrome can be in their business or organization. Our job is to open more doors for our members and we hope that the gala’s program will help us to do that.”

The evening’s festivities will be held once again at Celebrate It at 4195 Pine Mill Road in Paris, beginning with a social hour at 6 pm. The guest speaker, along with the presentation of this year’s Volunteer and Outstanding Educator of the Year Award, will follow a catered dinner. Local band X-Caliber, a long-time favorite at the society’s events, will perform a great mix of rock and blues for the remainder of the evening. The evening will also include a silent auction filled with themed baskets and items sure to get the attention of the guests.

All of the proceeds from the evening’s festivities will go directly to the Red River Valley Down Syndrome Society. “We are affiliates of national organizations,” said Tharpe, “but we are a stand-alone 501c3 nonprofit that serves only this area. This is one of the times that you can truly trust your money will stay in this community, helping this community. All the money raised at the gala goes directly into keeping the organization running and continuing to provide programs and services to the people of our region.”

Tickets are available online at, by phone at (903) 783-1922 or from any committee member. Individual tickets are $25, $45 for a couple. Reserved tables are available as well.

Businesses or individuals who wish to help the event by becoming a sponsor or underwriting a portion of the event should contact Deanna Tharpe at RRVDSS, (903) 783-1922.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition, estimated at one per 733 births. It is caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 21st chromosome. The characteristics of Down syndrome can vary widely from child to child. While some children with Down syndrome need much medical attention, others lead very healthy and independent lives. Please contact RRVDSS for more information on Down syndrome. RRVDSS is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve and enrich and lives of individuals with Down syndrome through support, education and awareness. Started by parents of a young man with Down syndrome in 2004, the organization serves a 12-county region in northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma.

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