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Lauren Potter: On World Down Syndrome Day, Speaking Out on How Bullying Hurts and Kills Dreams

This blog is part of HuffPost Impact’s “Spring Into Action” series. We’re highlighting fresh, innovative ways to give and get involved — from new cause initiatives, social innovators, families in need with unique stories to tell, new Impact bloggers and more. During the week of March 20 to March 27, read about what’s new in everything from veterans issues to child poverty — and find out what you can do to help.

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A long time ago when I was very little, I dreamed about being on stage. Some people told me I would never be able to do it, so I only paid attention to those who told me that I could.

Turns out following this one dream led me to discover even more dreams.

I joined a dance class with “typical kids” just before my third birthday and I had my first recital when I was four years-old. And when I heard people laughing and clapping I knew this was good for me! When the whole dance class came back to the stage and sat down, I was the only one to stand up and wave and blow kisses to the crowd.

That’s when I got my first standing ovation! I LOVED it!

Well, I kept on dreaming big, which led me to try out for a part on a movie when I was 16.
I got that part and starred in a movie called Mr. Blue Sky! I loved being on the set, being
with other actors and being in front of a camera. I learned so much about acting and about
being a part of a team. I also learned that being an actor isn’t just fun and games…it is
very hard work and sometimes very long hours. In one of the scenes I had to wear flannel
pajamas for hours when it was 90 degrees in August. Now that was hard!

But, I was in heaven! I just knew this was the job for me!

Then, one day, I got a phone call about a part on a new show called “Glee” for a girl with
Down syndrome to play the part of a cheerleader. I had always wanted to be a cheerleader,
and even though I tried out for the squad in high school and didn’t make the cut, I knew I
wanted this job. I knew I had to work really hard to do a great job.

The casting director Robert Ulrich told us that the producers wanted someone who was cute, witty and also a little bit spunky. I also knew it had to be a girl with a dream.

It’s been three seasons since my dream became a reality and I still love being on the show with the other cast members and the great crew, and I still love acting! But like the dreams that led up to realizing this big one, I keep finding new ones.

I have been all around the country speaking out for the anti-bullying campaign that was started with Ability Path.Org. And I am now working with “Defeat the Label” to continue
the fight against bullying. This lets other people hear how bullying hurts and kills dreams.

I’ve spoken in front of members of the U.S. Congress about a new dream of living in communities where everybody is welcome and everyone can live and go to school and work
without facing the fear of bullies.

I am excited to be on a campaign with Jane Lynch from Glee. We have done a public service announcement that encourages people to end the use of the “R” word. I want to live in a world where people care about other people and try hard not to hurt others with words or actions!

I am on the International Board of Best Buddies, and I am also working with Special Olympics, and with The Arc to help people with disabilities become more independent and more included in their communities.

And the dreams continue…

I was recently appointed by President Obama to the President’s Committee for People with
Intellectual Disabilities. I am so excited that the President trusts me to advise him on things
that are important to people with disabilities!

I’m even working on smaller dreams that mean so much. I’m asking anyone and everyone
to help me with my CrowdRise campaign to help my old school — The Carolyn E. Wylie Center — raise money to buy 23 iPads for their program for kids with Autism. Many of these kids thrive because of this school where I learned I COULD, when others told my mom and me that I wouldn’t or couldn’t! Share this with everyone you know! And donate, please!

I am still going to school to learn more about life, about living more independently, about making good decisions, and most importantly… TO NEVER EVER GIVE UP MY DREAMS!

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Lauren Potter Launches Web Series

GLEE star Lauren Potter (Becky Jackson) is starring in the new comedy web series LEADER OF THE PACK created by Richard Redlin launching appropriately on March 21st – World Down Syndrome Day. “I’m so excited because this show is about a boy with Down syndrome, and all the people in it are a little different. Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see Down syndrome, but when all of the people that are acting with me are a little different, then I don’t just see DS, I see just me,” offers Lauren.

LEADER OF THE PACK focuses on a charming teen, Blake (Luke Spinelli, Becky Jackson’s Prom date on GLEE), who has Down syndrome. When his well-meaning, but over-protective mom takes him to the Special Ed Center each day, Blake’s secret life begins. Despite the protests of Jenny (Lauren Potter) he ducks out the back door with his pal Joey (newcomer Jared Kozak who also has Down syndrome). While they enjoy a series of adventures cruising around on his battery powered electric scooter, Jenny covers for him back at the center. When Blake spots High School senior Denise (Alanna Brown, NYPD BLUE) he’s instantly smitten. She’s out to save the planet and has a boyfriend, but when she meets Blake her world gets turned upside down by the feelings that arise.

Series creator Richard Redlin (THE MENTALIST) has overcome a physical disability himself and creates work that showcases performers’ abilities rather than their limitations. His past work includes the film LEGS starring Robert David Hall (CSI) and TRUST ME (nominated for 2 BackStage West Garland Awards). He says “Rather than just have a character with Down syndrome surrounded by an ensemble cast, I wanted to turn that around and have these 3 extremely talented actors in lead roles playing regular teens.”

LEADER OF THE PACK web series is produced by Richard Redlin Photography Studio LLC with fiscal sponsorship from Filmmakers Alliance L.A. (a 501 c 3) making it a non-profit. The project had casting assistance from The Down Syndrome Association of L.A. and Gail Williamson (DSIAM.org) is supervising producer on LEADER OF THE PACK.

Lauren Potter is the only person with an intellectual disability appointed to the “President’s Committee for People With Intellectual Disabilities” where she is advising Obama on issues relating to intellectual disabilities.

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Help Lauren Potter Get 23 iPads for Her School

BENEFITING: THE CAROLYN E WYLIE CENTER FOR CHILDREN YOUTH & FAMILIES
EVENT DATE: Feb 06, 2012
DEADLINE TO GIVE: Mar 06, 2012

HERE’S THE STORY:

“Supporting children with varied abilities and their families in achieving full participation within their homes, schools, communities.” Connie Beasley, Founder.

The Carolyn E. Wylie center for Children, Youth & Families improves the quality of life and enhances family relationships by providing programs for children and the community with compassion and commitment.

The Wylie Center has a state certified non-public school, licensed child care, a sensory motor clinic, mental health programs, physical, occupational and speech therapy, an early intervention home program, an outreach program, inclusion partners, parenting classes and  autism spectrum intervention.

The Autism Program at the Wylie Center is committed to providing the highest quality individualized intervention services to make positive and pervasive differences in the lives of children, youth and families in areas relating to Autistic Disorders and to enhance overall quality of living.

We need your help though! We need 23 iPads to make the greatest impact at the program and The Wylie Center. Here’s why 23 iPads will make such an impact for the students: 

  • The iPads would be used with children ages 2 years to 12 years of age with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Our interventionists would assist children with using the iPads for communication and learning.
  • Within our population we currently have children who are non-verbal.
  • All of the children we work with have limited communication skills which are dependent on access to pictures of objects or words on cards that allow them to convey their wants, needs, and emotions.
  • Several applications written for the iPad target such communication styles.
  • The digital camera on the iPad2 give therapists, caretakers and the child the ability to take pictures in the moment and incorporate these pictures in the applications instantaneously allowing more communication within differing environments.
  • There is an endless amount of subject matter the iPads can access which when presented in such a visually stimulating way, opens the door to new interests that may never otherwise be discovered.
  • One 12 year old we know was able to use his iPad to communicate his favorite color, his love of classical music, that he is able to write his name, that he is an amazing speller, that he can read, and tell his family the places he likes to go – on the iPad, for the very first time. 
  • This amazing little machine is a window to the world.
  • Behavior monitoring and tracking can also be accomplished on the iPad. When working with individuals with Autism, our goal is to make the skills we teach functional in the natural environment and as independent as possible. Visual schedules created in the calendar and reminder features on the iPad allow independence to grow with a socially acceptable use of technology without drawing unwanted attention, which allows a greater level of freedom while working on social skills needed to be a part of the community.

Your support is greatly appreciated. 

Lauren

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Glee’s Becky Talks Up Big Episode

It’s a good time to be Lauren Potter. Besides having recently been appointed by President Obama to his Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, the 21-year-old Glee star got to party with movie stars at the Golden Globes, is up for a SAG ensemble award at the end of the month, and has a pivotal storyline in this week’s episode.

Her popular character, Becky Jackson, bravely proclaims her love to Artie (Kevin McHale). “Artie is so sweet and nice and handsome; great boyfriend material,” says Lauren, who enjoyed running lines with Kevin. “Becky is spunky and loves Artie, and I think they’d be great at dating and stuff.”

Becky doesn’t let anything — including her disability — get in the way of pursuing her man and ends up asking Artie out on a date. Lauren, who is just as brave in her own life, says she also has no reservations about asking boys out. “I’m a flirt,” she admits. Her advice: “If a guy asks you out, make sure he’s honest. I think [most] boys are trouble. They all act so immature.”

Sadly, Artie’s not so sure Becky’s the girl for him, which finds both students seeking out the advice of an uncharacteristically sensitive Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). “Sue is very nice to Becky when she’s feeling sad,” says Lauren, who offers up this exclusive tease of a future episode: “Sue will want Becky to be her daughter, and Becky thinks Sue would be a great mom.”

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‘Glee’ Star Lauren Potter Appointed to Obama Committee

THIS IS AMAZING!  My heart is bursting right now – way to go Lauren!!

Actress Lauren Potter is known to Glee fans as Sue Sylvester’s right hand woman Becky Jackson, but the 21-year-old has been given an even more high-profile new role.

According to CNN.com, Potter has been appointed by President Barack Obama as a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, which “provides advice about intellectual disabilities to the president and the secretary of Health and Human Services. This can include education, homeownership and workplace integration issues. This committee consists of 21 citizen members appointed by the president and 13 federal government members who meet periodically over a year and report findings to the president.”

Potter, who has Down syndrome, said in a statement, “It is important to me that people with intellectual disabilities are represented and treated fairly and are given the same opportunities as every other American. Our challenges are the same as many others, we want to be safe in school — free from bullying and teasing, we hope to be welcomed at parks, recreation centers and other community activities, we worry about jobs and where we will live but mostly we want to be treated how you want to be treated — with respect!”

Regarding the involvement of those in the committee, including Potter, President Obama said in a statement, “I am grateful that these talented and dedicated individuals have agreed to take on these important roles and devote their talents to serving the American people. I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years.”

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Lauren Potter Leads Charity Run at Audi Best Buddies Challenge

On Saturday, Oct. 22, the Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Washington, D.C. is holding a rash of races to raise money for Best Buddies International, a nonprofit that provides leadership training, employment opportunities, and friendship building for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The challenge is open to participants of all ages and abilities and features two bike races and two running events starting at the Washington Monument. The bike races include 100K and 20-mile events starting at 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. respectively. The challenge also features the Carl Lewis Challenge at 8:30 a.m., a 5K run/walk led by the Olympic gold-medalist, and the Celebrity-Student Fun Run at 9:30 a.m., a 5K run/walk for high school and college students led by “Glee” star Lauren Potter. Potter, who has Down syndrome, plays cheerleader Becky Jackson on the hit Fox show.

“I am looking forward to leading the Celebrity-Student Fun Run, because I want to help raise awareness about Best Buddies,” said Potter.

Best Buddies has 1,500 chapters in all 50 states and 50 countries with programs targeted at middle-school, high school and college students, as well as adults.

“Best Buddies is very important, because it helps makes everyone—especially kids and young adults with intellectual disabilities—feel included!”

Potter told People magazine in February that she was bullied in school—kids made her eat sand and taunted her. She said he still gets called the “R” word. So she teamed up with Best Buddies and the Special Olympics on the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.

Now she’s leading the charge for Best Buddies at the Celebrity-Student Fun Run. Other celebrities expected to make appearances include: Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis;  American cycling legend Bobby Julich; American Olympic cyclist Bobby Lea and his brother Syd Lea, a Special Olympics cycling gold-medalist; Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics and Washington Wizards; Miss Teen USA Danielle Doty; Miss District of Columbia Heather Swann; Miss Teen District of Columbia Jmani Bentham; Miss Maryland Allyn Rose; Miss Teen Maryland Kristen Nicholson; andpop artist Romero Britto.

Participants in all the challenge events will be treated to a gourmet lunch and a special performance by Kool and the Gang.

Register for any of the challenge’s races at www.bestbuddieschallenge.org.

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Lauren Potter to Celebrate Disabilities Act Milestone

Anyone live in Alaska?

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“Glee” actress Lauren Potter and champion dog musher Lance Mackey will celebrate 21 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Tuesday evening from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Gold Room of the Westmark Hotel.

The free event is sponsored by Access Alaska, a private nonprofit group that helps people who experience a disability to live independently.

Potter, who was born with Down syndrome, plays Becky, a cheerleader on the hit Fox television show. Mackey is a four-time Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion. In 2007 he was the first musher to win both races in the same year. Mackey was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001. He is now cancer-free, but suffered nerve damage in his left index finger. Mackey chose to have the finger surgically removed.

On July 26, 1990, President George H. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities. This legislation established a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

For more information, contact Access Alaska toll free at (800) 770-4488 or http://www.facebook.com/AccessAlaska.

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Jane Lynch & Lauren Potter’s PSA for Spread the Word to End the Word

‘Glee’ Honored by AAPD

The cast of Glee was honored by the AAPD this week.  Unfortunately, the entire cast could not attend so they sent Lauren Potter to accept the award on their behalf.  What an amazing award and what a deserving recipient!  Congrats Glee & Lauren!

‘Glee’ actress dates regular guy in O.C.

I love this so much!  Thanks for the heads up, Jenny!

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If you’d like to know what it’s like to date an actress on one of television’s hottest shows, talk to Sean McElwee.

Better yet, go on a date with McElwee and his girlfriend, Lauren Potter, who plays Becky Jackson on the musical-comedy-drama, “Glee.”

But be warned. When the couple gets together it’s nothing like the tabloid tales of high-octane celebrity antics.

Instead, Potter’s and McElwee’s romance is a touching Valentine story that would melt Cupid’s own heart.

But first McElwee had to track down his crush.

McElwee was watching television during “Glee”‘s inaugural season in the fall of 2009 when he spotted Potter for the first time.

Now a senior at Trabuco Hills High School, he liked everything about her. Her blonde hair, her green eyes, her smile. But what McElwee really liked was that Potter seemed like a nice person.

The only problem was that she was a big-time television actress and he was a Rancho Santa Margarita teenager.

Then McElwee learned Potter was going to be at the Buddy Walk put on by the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles.

McElwee was so there.

With a little help from his mom, Sandra McElwee, and the group’s Executive Director, Gail Williamson, McElwee managed to meet Potter. For McElwee, it was love at first sight.

But Potter, a practical young woman of 20, was a bit more circumspect. Sure, this fan was good looking, had a cool haircut, dark eyebrows and an athletic build from playing sports such as flag football.

But she had just met this fellow. Still, the actress agreed to go on a date. Then another. They both liked bowling and movies. He preferred “The Chronicles of Narnia.” She liked the Disney-animated movie “Tangled” – yes, a musical.

Then, last fall, Potter agreed to go to McElwee’s homecoming dance. The night was magic.

And they realized that what they liked most of all was one another’s company.

But getting together was challenging. Potter lives in Riverside, doesn’t drive and has an exceptionally busy schedule.

Not only does she have “Glee” rehearsals in Hollywood, she had a role in the movie “Mr. Blue Sky” and stars in the Web series, “Leader of the Pack.”

Potter tells me acting is her passion. She likes everything about being an actor, from pretending to be someone else (she plays a cheerleader on Glee,) to memorizing lines, to hanging out with other cast members.

Still, she’s modest about her accomplishments.

During a long interview and walk, Potter doesn’t mention going to the Golden Globes Jan. 16 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. And she also doesn’t mention her beautiful black and gray dress or getting to mug for the cameras.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday and I’m hanging with Potter and McElwee at the McElwee home in Rancho Santa Margarita.

The Super Bowl is an especially propitious event for Potter and McElwee because the game will lead into “Glee.” McElwee says he’s for the Green Bay Packers. So am I. McElwee pumps his fist, “Yes!”

He says his favorite television show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” also airs Sunday nights. I mention my wife loves the show. Another fist pump, another “Yes!”

His enthusiasm is infectious and Potter giggles. A broad smile spreads across her face.

While the romance took time to root, it’s now in full flower. When the couple looks at one another – which they do a lot – there is an aura of affirmation.

They support one another.

McElwee stumbles answering a question, Potter quietly explains, “That’s not what he asked.”

When McElwee repeats an answer, Potter reminds him he’s already responded.

He replies with grace. “My bad. Thank you.”

When McElwee jokes, “I’m hot, sexy and pretty,” Potter just shakes her head with amusement.

Why do they enjoy one another so much?

“She’s really nice,” McElwee explains. “I like her voice.”

Potter ticks off McElwee’s attributes: smart, honest, polite, respectful. She adds they also share something important, “We have great parents.”

“The greatest parents ever,” McElwee chimes in. Without a touch of hubris, he also says, “We’re a cute couple.”

And he’s right.

While it’s not Valentine’s Day, they’ve brought early gifts. They sit together on a living room coach. McElwee’s parents discreetly watch from the staircase. She has a blue bag with blue crepe paper for him. He has a red bag with pink crepe paper for her.

McElwee peeks in his bag first.

Potter says, “Maybe a surprise, perhaps?”

He fishes out a card and a heart-shaped box of chocolates. He flashes a huge grin.

If joy were rocket fuel…

Potter pulls out a card and a small brown teddy bear. Draped around the bear is a delicate silver chain with a man’s silver ring.

“S-A-M, Sam,” she says. They are McElwee’s initials and the ring is his. He knew it was too big for Potter’s petite hands so he hung the ring on the necklace.

With a little assistance, Potter puts on the necklace.

“Why a ring?” McElwee says repeating a question. “Because I love her very much.”

“I love you too,” Potter says. The couple hugs, their chins resting on one another’s shoulders. I can’t see McElwee’s face, but Potter’s smile is big enough for both of them.

Potter gently asks the fellow she calls her boyfriend, “You’re crying aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t worry,” Potter says. “Those are tears of joy.”

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