According to the Center for Disease Control, about 1 in every 700 babies will be born with Down syndrome. As diagnostic measures improve, the number of people identified as having Down syndrome continues to increase. For parents with children who have Down syndrome, one of the most difficult challenges in the early years will be finding food their child will eat and enjoy. For 9-year-old AJ Witherspoon and his mother Jessica Witherspoon, that food happened to be cheese pizza.
“When AJ was close to three, we had already gone through almost three years of therapy,” said Jessica Witherspoon. “We couldn't really get him to eat table foods; we were struggling quite a bit. Believe it or not, pizza was the first table food he ever showed an interest in without resistance or any type of therapy techniques, so pizza around the age of 3 was AJ’s go-to.”
The Witherspoons approached their local Domino’s Pizza once AJ’s love of pizza was discovered, and the owner was happy to begin collaborating. Now, Domino’s and the Witherspoons partner twice a year to raise awareness of and promote inclusivity for people with Down syndrome.
Tonight, Domino’s hosted an exclusive World Down Syndrome Day event that saw AJ Witherspoon in the kitchen of his favorite restaurant chain creating pizzas for the Region. While the idea of having AJ Witherspoon at the oven has been floated before, this year’s the first that he’s felt comfortable doing it. He was having a blast tonight as he made free pizzas for guests, and the employees were enjoying themselves too.
“It was really fun. It is a great opportunity for us to showcase how fun pizza making is, and it's for a great cause,” said Vice President of Operations Carol Mittman.
While the pizzas were going for free, guests were encouraged to donate to Team AJ for the Down Syndrome Association of Northwest Indiana (DSANWI) annual Buddy Walk in October.
Most importantly though, AJ Witherspoon enjoyed himself while showing that people with Down syndrome can do anything individuals without Down syndrome can. As he sat down to enjoy a pizza made by himself, AJ Witherspoon was beaming with pride from a hard hour’s work.
Domino’s is hoping for future events like this as they work to increase awareness and inclusion in Northwest Indiana.
“I would love to do more events like this,” said Jim Gronemann, franchisee. “I think that kids love to do this kind of thing. We love to give back to the community, we love to help out. A lot of our upper management's here today, so I think that they're seeing the power and the impact that they're having on AJ, and I would suspect we'll be doing a lot more of these.”
Jessica Witherspoon couldn’t be more proud of her son, and she hopes that the community takes note of everything AJ Witherspoon’s been able to accomplish while having Down syndrome.
“I want people to see that, although my son is young, he is capable. He may need some support, but I think we all do at times, and those are important reminders that we're actually more alike than we are different. That may sound cliche, but when you look at it from the bigger picture, it's actually true,” said Jessica Witherspoon. “I also hope that people leave having learned more about patience than they typically would while waiting for a pizza by seeing that a kid is really trying his best to fulfill their order. It may take a little extra patience, but here's your pizza; it's gonna taste just as great.”
To find other ways to support the Down syndrome community in Northwest Indiana, visit Down Syndrome Association of Northwest Indiana’s website.
For great deals and even greater pizza, visit your local Domino’s Pizza location or order delivery for the website.