Even the passersby know that this is no ordinary lemonade stand. Sure, it’s a fairly classic-looking structure, made out of wooden pallets, plastered with scrawled sales sign, and cups tucked near tubs of lemonade.
But what might seem a bit unusual is the number of children cheerleading to make a sale. In the Benson Place subdivision in Kansas City near Liberty, about 30 kids are waving down cars. Their parents sit on the curb, keeping keen eyes on them.
For the most part, though, those adults stay out of the scene. This show is run by the kids, ages 8 to 13, while toddlers are cared for by the tweens. They’re quick to chase down the tot who wanders too close to a cross-street. They’re there to bounce around with signs and smile, advertising a tasty beverage.
But mostly they’re there to support a cause that every one of them holds dear. Their T-shirts hold a clue. They read: “Reese’s Rebels, for the Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk.”
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All funds from this stand — along with money raised from other events, like garage sales — go to the Down Syndrome Guild of Kansas City.
Nicole and Ben Wallace’s middle child, Reese, has been a blessing to this neighborhood, a visitor to the stand will learn from listening to comments from the younger crowd.
“It’s like this: We’re more alike than different,” says Kamryn Schmalz, 12, who stands near her twin, Kiersten. “She may look a little different or learn a little slower, but she’s still just a little girl, playing around.”
And her favorite game, says the crew, laughing, is to play escape artist, which she’s doing on this bright afternoon.
Her dad chases after the 3-year-old, who holds on stubbornly to a lollipop while racing down the street. Her T-Shirt is unique in this crowd. Her mom reads it aloud: “Keep calm. It’s only an extra chromosome.”
“What’s amazing about this street is that all of the kids accept her,” Nicole says, holding her wiggling 18-month-old youngest child, decked out on this warm day in a gauzy ballerina skirt and T-shirt. “They will advocate for her through the years.”
And they will advocate for the child they will soon adopt from China, a soon-to-be 3-year-old who also has Down syndrome.
“Kids learn from their peers,” says Nicole. “The next time they encounter someone with special needs, they will pass on the knowledge.”
That knowledge, she says, is that we must accept people — look for similarities and respect differences.
Most important to this mom — who is clearly as proud of her neighbors’ children as she is of her own — is that all the children on this street treat Reese as if she is like any other child.
An SUV passes by, and a voice rings out, “Sorry, no cash.”
“That’s OK. We won’t trip you on the way by this time,” says one of the parents sitting nearby, and a group sitting on the curb laughs.
For Jennifer Sicox, mom to two kids ages 6 and 8, the camaraderie of this neighborhood makes it a special place. Other parents chime in: On this street, it’s OK to let your kids walk over unannounced to a neighbor’s house if they know an adult is home. It’s OK to shout over a fence and ask whether your child can pop over to play.
“It’s the way things used to be, really, and the way they should be,” Sicox says.
It is, parents and kids all agree, a special street. As if pointing to divine evidence of that, several parents point out an odd quirk: five sets of twins live on just the one street.
Any visitor would have to look hard to find a “for sale” sign on a lawn.
“My wife says, ‘We’re not allowed to move unless the whole street leaves with us,’” says Ben with a laugh.
No argument from the kids, who seem as tight-knit as a group of siblings.
“When we announced we were going to adopt a Down syndrome baby, the kids in this neighborhood were the first to give us congratulations,” Nicole says.
And why wouldn’t they, several of the tweens ask her. They look forward to another child to love.
“Reese is special to us,” says Caitlyn Jenkins, 9. “She’s our family. Our whole street is like a family.”