HANNIBAL, Mo. –Marissa Todd has Down syndrome, but that hasn’t stopped the Marion County high school senior from getting involved in her 4-H club, holding office or becoming a 4-H camp counselor.
“I have Down syndrome,” she says. “This problem makes me a slow learner in a lot of things. I have to try things over and over until I get it. It just takes a long time…I just have to never give up.”
Marissa asked to be a 4-H camp counselor when she was 14. She felt confident she could do the job because the 4-H event is held at the same church camp she attends and where her older sister served as counselor.
Don Nicholson, at the time a University of Missouri Extension 4-H youth specialist in the Marion County area, says Marissa’s experience, sense of humor, compassion and enthusiasm made her a natural for the job.
Marissa’s parents, Michelle and Chuck Todd, credit Nicholson for working behind the scenes to give her the opportunity to serve as counselor. “He did not always play a noticeable role, but in his heart he always could see potential in her,” Michelle says. “He connected and just ‘got it.’”
Nicholson and 4-H volunteers, along with Marissa’s family, focused on what she could do rather than on what she couldn’t. They weren’t disappointed.
“It is true that Marissa and I likely work longer and harder on things that come easy for others,” her mother says. “But it is just as true that since we have worked so hard, the rewards are sweeter and more joyous. We try to make the most of every opportunity that comes our way.”
Marissa’s resume reads like that of someone headed for an elite college: past president of Mt. Zion Country Clovers 4-H club, school musical for seven years, 4-H camp counselor, church member and volunteer, homecoming candidate, high school dance squad for youth of all abilities, and winner of numerous 4-H awards in her 10 years of membership.
She holds a paid position at a day care center and job shadows at the early childhood center in the public schools. Marissa hopes to attend college to study early childhood education.
Marissa is among a growing number of 4-H’ers with disabilities. MU Extension youth specialist Patty Fisher says 4-H is a perfect fit for youth with disabilities because of the diversity of projects now offered. Marissa’s mother says there is no better way to learn than to “learn by doing,” a motto of 4-H.
To learn more about 4-H for youth with disabilities, contact Fisher at 573-324-5464 or FisherP@missouri.edu, or visit http://extension.missouri.edu/4h/.
The youth development program of the nation's Cooperative Extension System and USDA, 4-H empowers 6 million young people in the United States. In partnership with 110 universities, 4-H’s life-changing, researched-based programs are available through 4-H clubs, camps, and after-school and school enrichment programs in every county and parish in the U.S.