Search Results for: label/Photo Dump

8 Tips to Taking Better Instagram Photos


It’s been a long time since I’ve done a post on taking pictures, and I started working on one–collecting tips from everything from editing to printing–but it got very lengthy. So I figured I’d break these up and start with a handful of tips that work for me when I’m in a rut with photography inspiration, and I’ll share more tips in future posts as we go. While I do post both iPhone and regular camera photos to Instagram, all these tips work with just a camera phone.

If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you know photography is one of my love languages. It’s a little bit like yoga in that the more you practice it, the more natural it is for you to achieve the desired outcome. Sometimes taking photos for me relies on more thought–about composition, colors, lines, where the light’s coming from–and sometimes, when I’m really lucky, the magic of a “heart” moment lands in my lap and without even thinking about how I’m going to capture it, I just snap, and everything I was feeling at the moment lands in the frame. Those are usually my favorite photos. Like the one below. I remember everything about this moment.

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Ultimately, that’s the stamp of a good photo to me–that it makes me feel something–peace, comfort, happiness, sadness, someone else’s story, the wonder of childhood, the joy of motherhood, the desire to slow down, get out and explore, twirl in a field of daisies, grab my kids and kiss their cheeks, anything. I like when photographs awaken some little tiny part of me. At this point in motherhood and with the subject of a lot of my photos, the feeling I aim to capture is often simply delight.

But I also like to challenge myself to keep my photos interesting and have fun with changing things up. Photography can be so much fun, especially when you start playing with angles and light. It’s always a thrill when you look in the frame and see this little story right there in one shot. Click. You captured it. A moment between sisters. The twirl of a dress. A head tipped back in laughter. A hug. A sleeping baby. A tear rolling down a cheek. A page from the book of your life.

Like practicing yoga, again, there are some days when taking photos feels a little clunky for me or like I’ve forgotten everything I know about taking good pictures. On days like those, I’ll come back to these tips to reignite some creativity and get me out of a boring rut.

1. Find the light.
Photo means, simply, light, and you cannot create a picture without it. Natural light creates the most beautiful photos, but there are so many things you can do with light besides just stand in it. The best way to get a good, clear picture is go to the light. If you’re taking photos in your house, take them near windows. Study the light patterns in your home. I know that in the morning, Dash’s room is simply magic with the light that floods in; that mid-afternoon, the girl’s room has soft beautiful shadows, and that early evening our dining room practically turns into a studio with the golden light of the setting sun.

A foolproof tip for a beautiful photo: Use a side light source. Stand so that the light is coming in from either side of you, and position your subject to face the light. Every one of the photos below was taken this way, and the result is magic.

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2. Manipulate light.
You may already know this, but it’s worth mentioning because I’ve had far too many people who’ve seen me “move the sun” in camera mode on my phone stop me with, “Wait–what? You can change the light?!?” When you’re taking a picture with your iPhone, you can tap the screen in any place to focus on that area, and a little sun will pop up that lets you add more light or take it away. This is especially handy in backlit situations as, depending on how you take the photo, you can create a dark silhouette effect against the light or a light-flooded image.

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3. Change your perspective.
If all your pictures look the same (typically straight on), the easiest way to get creative and play around with telling a different story is to change the angle at which you normally take photos. Try an overhead shot, get down low (yes, lay down on the ground!) or move really close to zoom in on one element of the photo. Within one minute, I took four different pictures of Dash playing with blocks in front of our front door, and each one tells a different story.

Straight on:

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From overhead:

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Moving outside and taking it through the door:

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And zooming in on one element, his feet (if the iPhone doesn’t focus right away on what you’re trying to zoom in on, tap what you want in focus and give the camera a second to adjust):

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I love overhead shots, like the ones below. They allow so many details to shine that would otherwise be overlooked–the patterns in the fabric, the bath toys against the white bubbles, even random toys on the floor that make their way into the shot.

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4. Play with shadows.
I’m always on the lookout for good shadows from palm tree fronds to perfect profiles on the wall. When I see a good shadow, I’m all “Wait! Stop! Don’t move! Let me get my camera!” Even my kids are on the lookout for them. In the photo of Lainey below, she’s the one who spotted that tree shadow and said, “I bet you want to take a picture there.” I love the two of me and Brett below because our actual bodies aren’t even in the photo, but the sun and shadows were so perfect in D.C. that day, it created a great way to capture a moment of the two of us. I normally don’t like direct harsh sunlight for photos, but creates great shadows that can be fun to layer into a photo–like the one of Lainey and Nella walking with their ice cream cones.

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5. Get away from always centering your subject, and use negative space.
While it’s a totally breakable rule, if you don’t know the rule of thirds in photography, it basically says that photos are most interesting if subjects are placed in one of the intersecting points of where an image would be broken up into thirds. If you’re not used to thinking about composition when taking photos, you’re probably inclined to center your subject. Try putting them in a corner though and expanding your shot to include negative space. The four photos below could have all been taken by centering the subject but tell much more interesting stories by scooting them over and leaving space.


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6. Make your photos POP with contrast.
Think juxtaposition–a tiny nook of light in a dark room or a pop of color in an otherwise dull landscape. Just as in nature–like a red cardinal flying against a snowy backdrop–photos that include great contrast make viewers stop and take notice. A pair of bright red shoes on a gray sidewalk, a rainbow kite flying against a muted sky, a yellow dandelion emerging in a field of green–I don’t know if it’s from taking photos or just from loving these contrasts in general, but I notice them more and more.

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7. Crop it like it’s hot.
Don’t give the whole story away…just give a teeny tiny part. Cropping is such a fun way to play with telling a story through a photo and can completely change an image from ordinary to you-have-my-attention-tell-me-more. In the photo on the left, I had taken several shots of the girls backstage at Lainey’s recital. The images weren’t that special or evocative except one–the image that included just a line of tutus and legs. Cropping is a good place to break the rules too–cut off heads (right in the middle, if you wish), tops of bodies, half an image–whatever you like. The photos become little clues to the rest of the story out of frame.

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8. Add effects.
Here’s where it gets fun. Post processing. And it’s amazing how much you can do with apps on your phone these days. My current favorite app that I use for almost all of my Instagram photos now is A Color Story. It’s super user friendly, and there are so many fun packages (most run $1.99) you can add for effects like sun flare and light leaks. I don’t use a lot of filters, but I brighten, add contrast, adjust the temperature and sometimes change the angle of my photos a bit if the lines aren’t straight. My favorite effect lately is sun flare. I’m going to run through a photo and show you how I changed it within a matter of seconds. I took this photo of Lainey overhead in the pool, and though I loved the composition and the color pop, I wanted to make it a little more interesting by adding sun ripples on the water. First, I opened the photo in the Color Story app and tapped “Effects” on the bottom which opened a menu of different effects.

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From there, I tapped “Flare & Bokeh” which opened a new menu of 17 different sun flares.

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I chose “Flare 2″, moved it to where I wanted it, hit the check mark to put it in place and then went through that process one more time, layering another round of “Flare 2″ and positioning it in a different place so that the sun spots were well dispersed. The dappled light in the final image makes me happy.

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It takes some practicing to the get the most natural effect, but the sun flares are super fun to play with in shots with window light or outdoor sun, and they add some nice oomph to images that feel a little flat.

The most important part of taking photos is to have fun with it. Photography has made me so much more aware of little things I used to overlook–colors and contrasts, architecture with character, magical slivers of light, shadows and foliage, and all these aspects of childhood I’m so grateful to have preserved from skinned knees and scuffed tennis shoes to all the wisps of hair that excape from a braid at the end of the day.

Weekend’s coming…get your cameras.

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4 Ideas for Incorporating Photos into your Holiday

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Scene: 1953, my grandma’s living room, annual Christmas card photo shoot. Four boys huddle around the fireplace, the littlest three smiling and holding their stockings up to hang while the oldest holds a prop camera–the kind with the big round flash, now vintage–and pretends to take a photo of them. The mantle looks a lot like mine does now–bottle brush trees neatly arranged across the top and evergreen garland draped festively in front. The boys’ fresh haircuts are combed perfectly to the side, and every outfit is ironed and neatly tucked for the picturesque portrayal of that 50’s Cleaver perfection. How do I know this? Because I have the photograph framed with three other of my grandparents’ Christmas cards and displayed in my hallway. And even though they have long been gone, I can feel my grandparents in the photograph–my grandpa’s attention to detail in the orchestration of the shot and the way he added a chair for my uncle to stand on to evenly space the boys’ heights, my grandma’s impeccable housekeeping and her dedication to the things that were of utmost importance in motherhood then–ironed clothes, fresh haircuts, clean faces, the deep roots of a loving home.

The love of photos runs in my blood–on both sides of my family, actually (throw in Brett’s–the deck is stacked)–and every time I walk past those old Christmas cards and see my grandma’s family, a lot like mine, I feel so appreciative for the way photographs rekindle our memories, connect us to a time, place and people we love, and make us feel loved and inspired. And because I speak fluent photo love, I’ve taken it upon myself to wrangle together four ways you can incorporate your favorite photos into your holiday this year, all of which bring a little happiness and sense of home. My friends at Artifact Uprising have hopped in to offer a giveaway at the end of the post, so make sure you check it out because their photo books are simply delicious.

1. Make a Book of Christmas Past for the Coffee Table

Collect all your holiday memories in one place so you can look back at how the kids have outgrown their Christmas footie pajamas and how your kids have matured in the annual photo with Santa  from screaming-on-his-lap to happily standing next to him. We used Artifact Uprising’s Hardcover Photo Book for ours. To keep it easy, I arranged photos randomly (rather than chronologically) and included the year on each spread by inserting a text box in simple white text (all easy to create and manipulate on Artifact Uprising’s site).

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My favorite thing about our book is how much the kids love to look at it and talk about the photos.

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When the season’s over, we’ll pack up our book with our decorations to be tucked away until next holiday.

2. Transform the Photos You’ve Taken This Year into Gift Tags

I love the art of wrapping and the challenge of using simple things to make packages look beautiful, and photos are the perfect way to personalize a gift and add a unique little “garnish,” not to mention pull up some great memories you’ve made over the year.

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Artifact Uprising’s 3.25 x 3.25 Everyday Square Print Set are perfectly sized to work as gift tags or to accompany them to make a gift stand out.

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The hard part–choosing which memories to include!

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3. Print Old Holiday Photos to Display in Your Home

This is one of my favorite ways to decorate for the holidays, and it’s super easy. Simply collect holiday or wintery scene photos from over the years, print them and display around the house during the holidays. I switch out our framed art in our living room with holiday photos (I store them taped behind the other prints, so it’s easy to make the switch) as well as add some to the kids’ bedrooms. I love Artifact Uprising’s Wooden Photo Ledge (made of real walnut wood and handcrafted in the U.S.–ours is the 18″ one) because it’s made to hold photos without frames, so it’s easy to switch out prints throughout the year.

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We keep a stack of prints in a drawer near our ledge so we can switch out prints whenever we want to freshen things up.

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4. Create Meaningful Gifts with Your Photos

The best gifts are always the ones with meaning and memory, so you can never go wrong with a photo gift. And for grandparents? Photo gifts are always the way to go. We’ve done photo books and framed photos and, while I love them, I’m always looking for a little more out-of-the-box way to present and gift photos. I love these two:

This Brass Easel & Print Set that comes with twelve 5 x 7 prints of your choosing.

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It’s beautifully packaged, and its sleek design fits in with any decor.

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And this Handcrafted Wood Clipboard Calendar (has a magnet on the back) that doesn’t take up a lot of room (I love a good calendar but can never find the wall space to display them) and combines your favorite photos with a simple calendar design for a sweet little display.

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Our kind friends at Artifact Uprising are giving away a Hardcover Photo Book like ours. All you have to do is enter your e-mail below for a chance to win.

I’ll share a few tips in December on taking pictures through the holiday, how to capture the best moments and how to balance “capturing” with the moment itself.

Preparing Your Son Or Daughter for College: Suggestions for Parents of Children with Intellectual Disability


Last month, when Liz Plachta and I traveled to North Carolina to observe the UP Program in action at WCU, I took lots of mental pictures of what I saw–a promising future for Nella and a target more clearly defined for our hopes that consequently guides our actions today. It’s important to note that college isn’t the be-all and end-all of life, even for kids without intellectual disabilities, but it does represent something that we all want for all of our children–learning and opportunity, not to mention a fulfilling social life and independence. Whether one pursues these things through college or not, what we saw at WCU provided meaningful inspiration for me and Liz–moms of kids who, twenty years ago, would have had a different outlook for the future. Because I’m a nurturer by nature, I often have to remind myself to step back in parenthood–put my worries aside so that my nurturing doesn’t hinder my children’s ability to fly and figure things out for themselves–flying that will, no doubt, deliver experiences that are hard, that hurt their feelings, that don’t go perfect on the first try. With Nella, these reminders are even more critical for the success of her future. If I constantly view her opportunities through the filter of “she’s going to need us more,” I will clip the wings she was given to fly.

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What we observed at WCU was truly beautiful–a microcosm of what we want to see more of in the real world–inclusion at its best–students of all abilities working together and learning from each other. Zach and Ali both live fulfilling lives of independence that are seasoned with friends and learning, failures and success. There were several things I witnessed that I asked about later–“Wait, who’s helping them with that? Do their parents know they’re making plans for the weekend? How are they going to get there?” Dr. Westling and Dr. Kelley smiled at our questions. “They have to learn how to do these things like everyone else. They’ll figure it out. We don’t jump in to do it for them.”

Liz and I joked that we’d get kicked out of the program after they found us in camouflage, hiding in the bushes, spying on our kids to see if they needed us. Letting go is hard, especially when disabilities have required more of our support over the years–but I don’t ever want to hinder my kids’ success. We now promise to hold each other accountable and to meet for donuts and coffee when we’re feeling the itch to shadow our kids in college. Nella will mostly likely kick me out anyway. “Mom, get out of here. You’re embarrassing me, and I need to study for my exam.”

Nella might not be a Zach or Ali someday, and that’s okay–she’s Nella. But the world of opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities continues to expand with more knowledge, more stretching, more chasing, more asking, more letting go. The fact is, college is possible. Independent living is possible. Fulfilling employment is possible, and these things were hardly existent years ago. With a glass-half-full perspective, I’ll choose to see that word as beautiful: possible. And with our family’s efforts and our community’s support, we can fill that glass right up to the top. Likely.

It’s clear after spending a day with Dr. Westling and Dr. Kelley that they not only have years of experience with individuals with intellectual disabilities and a deep knowledge of special needs education, but they have a remarkable passion to help individuals succeed. They believe in inclusion in education and the workplace with all of their hearts. They’ve given their life’s work to helping individuals with intellectual disabilities soar, and they want to help others do the same. I’m so honored to have their words and hearts in this space today. Their advice is so valuable, I found myself shaking my head through every tip, pertinent not only to Nella but for each of my children.

For every one of us…a brighter future starts today.

Preparing Your Son Or Daughter for College:
Suggestions for Parents of Children with Intellectual Disability

David L. Westling, Ed.D. and Kelly R. Kelley, Ph.D.
The University Participant Program
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, NC 28723

It is not uncommon for us to receive each year five to ten times the number of applications to the University Participant Program, our postsecondary education program for students with Intellectual Disability (ID), for the number of slots we have available. Parents are quickly learning about the availability of college programs for their children with ID, and they are seeking admission to them at an unprecedented rate. As they do, they often ask us, “What can we do to increase the chance our child will be admitted?”

Unfortunately, when they ask the question, it is often too late for them to do the kinds of things that will ready their child for college. The kinds of attitudes and activities that are most important should begin early in life and continue until the young man or woman is ready to enter college. So through this paper, we are reaching out to parents to tell them what we think will best prepare their child for college. We hope you will find these suggestions useful.

1. Know that the family is the key to success.

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Photo by Kristina O’Brien, courtesy of Lauren Perlin

The clearest lesson we have learned is that the family is the key to what their child can accomplish. There is nothing we can teach in our program, or that students can learn, that will lead to positive outcomes if families don’t support these outcomes. Families have to realize the potential of their son or daughter from early in life and promote their full participation in life so that they can achieve as much independence as possible. Without this attitude by families, there is little we can do. So if we do not recognize this attitude in the family, and know that it has been present from the beginning, we will likely not admit an applicant.

2. Know that the role of parents must change during the child’s life. 

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Blaeske

It is very natural for all parents to want to nurture and protect their children. This is what good parents do. But good parents also give their children lots of chances to learn, let them find their interests, let them practice their skills, encourage them to try new things, and let them test their wings. If parents stop at the point of “nurturing and protecting,” their children will not gain in learning new things or acquiring independence. Even though the mental development of your child may not be the same as that of others, your development as a parent must progress so that your child can progress as much as possible. We are most interested in applicants who have done as much as they can with what they have to work with.

3. Be future focused. 

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Photo courtesy of Colette Cosky

If you have not already noticed, soon you will: Life happens very fast. For many parents, the activities of life are so overwhelming that it is difficult to look beyond each day. But days go by and before you know it, you have a young man or young woman living under your roof, and you are trying to figure out what the rest of his or her life will be like. Even though you might not know exactly what the future holds, start getting ready for it. Make sure your son or daughter is fully involved in family activities, community organizations, and is taught in inclusive schools and classrooms. He or she should have chores and responsibilities, should learn that work is part of life, and should think about career options. We can usually tell when a person has been immersed in life activities, and this is the person we want in our program!

4. Have high expectations

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Photo courtesy of Heather Rodriguez Photography

Everyone progresses to the highest level they are able to achieve if there is a clear expectation by those who matter that they should do so. Not everyone will be a nuclear physicist or a Nobel prize winner. But everyone can go to school, have interests, find a career (or two or three) and have a happy life in a happy home. This is not too much to ask for anyone. The only thing that can get in the way is if there is not an expectation for this to happen, or worse, if there is an expectation that it cannot! You might not know now exactly how it will happen, but if you expect it to, it will. When students apply to our program, we ask them why they want to come. When they have a clear picture of what they want in life, we know that they are more likely to be successful in our program.

5. Let your child take chances and make mistakes

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Photo courtesy of Heather Seal

We know that safety and security is the number one concern for parents, but opportunities to take risks are also important. And sometimes these risks will lead to mistakes. But if there are no risks being taken, and no mistakes being made, there is no learning occurring. On our college campus, we expect that our students will venture into new settings and activities, and that some of these will be a little risky. We try to guide them and help them avoid big mistakes, but at the same time, we know that what they have experienced earlier in life will better prepare them for life on campus. When we view applicants as having experienced a relatively sheltered life, we suspect that our program might be too overwhelming for them.

6. Allow voice and choice. 

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Photo courtesy of Heather Seal

Individuals need to learn how to make their own decisions, have a say in their life activities, and know that risks and rewards can be a part of every decision. We often see applicants for our program who turn to a parent or guardian every time they are asked a question. They do not trust their own judgment and feel they will be more correct if they rely on what mom or dad tells them. You have to realize that you will not always be around to make decisions and that the more practice your son or daughter has, the better they will become at it. We like to see applicants who, even though they might struggle, try to figure out for themselves what they want and what they should do. And we know if this is going to happen on campus, it has to start happening early in life.

7. Inclusion is essential

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Photo courtesy of Heather Seal

You cannot teach someone to live in a typical, heterogeneous world…they have to learn it through experience. We can tell when applicants are comfortable around others on our campus, and when they have not had the experiences to help them do so. The best kind of experience for them to have is to go to school with kids without disabilities in inclusive classrooms. As we look at conditions around the country, we know that some states and school districts include a lot of kids with ID and some do not. But we also know this: if parents are steadfast, their kids will be included. Don’t accept anyone telling you your child cannot be included. With adequate support, everyone can! Even though it might take extra effort on your part and on the school’s and teacher’s part, inclusion is the best education for someone who wants to go to college.

8. When the time is right, get a job! 

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Photo courtesy of Heather Rodriguez Photography

One of our outcome goals is for graduates to work in a career of their choice in a community-based job after leaving our program. And the best predictor of getting a job later is getting a job sooner. Kids in high school work at grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and lots of other places. Having a job teaches responsibility, independence, good decision-making and a lot of other soft skills that people need to be successful in the world. Use your network of friends, relatives, and acquaintances to help your son or daughter find a job during after school hours and on weekends and holidays. We find it hard for students to be successful in our job training component if they don’t know that working is an expectation. Let them know, when the time is right, that it is!

9. Take advantage of “natural supports.” 

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Photo by Kristina O’Brien, courtesy of Lauren Perlin

Parents often try hard to get their son or daughter every type of service that is available. Either through the schools or in addition to them, they pursue speech and language therapy, physical and occupational therapy, music and art therapy, dance therapy and hippotherapy, and various other kinds of therapeutic services. Although there is nothing wrong with this, it often results in the person with ID having more professionals in his or her life than non-professional people. In our program, we recruit numerous college students to hang out with and support our UP students. You can do the same by enlisting friends, schoolmates, neighbors, relatives, church members, scouts, and anyone else to spend an hour or two with your child every week. Not only will he or she be in a position to develop more friendships, but will also benefit from learning to engage with a variety of individuals, an expectation on our campus.

10. Share your success stories.

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Photo courtesy of Heather Rodriguez Photography

Lots of times, when a person applies to our program, they have already been successful and have acquired celebrity status. When they apply, they include their newspaper clippings and their videos of television interviews, and we are generally very impressed. When your son or daughter achieves success, if you can, get it publicized. This accomplishes lots of things. It lets the world know that your son or daughter is a capable person, and maybe more important, lets the everyone learn that people with ID can be successful. It also reinforces the notion of success in your son or daughter which will help him or her grow in confidence and pride. And most importantly, it tells the world, and us, that you are a great parent who is proud of your child and will do everything you can to help him or her be a successful person! This is the type of parent we want in our program!

We wish you the best in preparing your child for college or for whatever kind of successful life awaits. For more information about the UP Program, please visit And for more information about all college programs for students with ID, you can visit

Thank you, Dr. Westling and Dr. Kelley for supporting us parents through your words and the work you do. 


An update to the Ruby’s Rainbow 3-21 Pledge you all helped make so successful.

It’s time to give that money away! The deadline for 2015 scholarship applications is Friday, May 15

Note: This scholarship can be for ANY life-enriching type class (as simple as a local art class, community college program and, of course, programs like the one we shared at WCU). These scholarships are intended for individuals with Down syndrome of all abilities, not just individuals who are pursuing a rigorous college program.

1. This grant is for individuals with Down syndrome 18 years of age or older.
2. Desire and intent to enroll in a class or program that will enhance your life through employment, independent living or life skills, or interests in any other areas.
3. Provide High School transcript or equivalent.
4. Individual’s that were awarded a scholarship from Ruby’s Rainbow in 2014 will not be eligible for another scholarship in 2015, but may reapply again in 2016.
Click HERE to apply now.