By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
More than anything else, Kate Dougherty says, Down Country represents education and building relationships to provide a spotlight and an informational outlet for the region's "differently abled" community.
Dougherty, who coordinates the nonprofit Down Country organization, says the second Rhinestones and Rodeo Art Auction and Dance will provide needed funding to keep progress on those two goals moving forward. The fundraiser is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Ambiance, 5225 Koch's Lane.
The event will benefit training and education on disabilities and "positive awareness" for people who are "differently abled."
"Down Country utilizes Down syndrome as an overview ... but it does not focus solely on Down syndrome," Dougherty said.
The organization also works for people with autism, cerebral palsy, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and other related conditions.
Funds raised by Down Country help send regional representatives to national conferences and seminars. Those who attend then relay that information to other people, groups and organizations.
"It takes the whole community working together," Dougherty said. "Those who return (from the conferences) pay that information forward. This (process) has been a great blessing."
Dougherty said information gleened from the conferences is now being made available across West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa.
Guest speaker at the auction and dance will be James A. Faber, president of the National Down Syndrome Congress. Faber, a retired Air Force colonel, has been active in the Down syndrome movement for more than a decade.
Dougherty said Down Country stresses that awareness brings knowledge and acceptance, "bringing a positive light on how much a person with a disability can contribute to society."
"We all learn outside the box in some way or another," she said. "Down Country's goal is to promote positive awareness for those who learn outside the norm, whether it's due to a specific diagnosis or not. Every child learns differently.
"We live in a fantastic community and our goal is to help make it better."
Dougherty said all artwork being auctioned at the Rhinestones and Rodeo event has been created by families and friends of the differently abled.
Tickets for the fundraiser are $25 in advance and may be purchased by calling (217) 617-3568 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets at the door the night of the event are $40. Checks should be made payable to Down Country. Table reservations for parties of eight are available.