Family raises funds for Down syndrome scholarship

Friday, Mar. 11, 2022
Family raises funds for Down syndrome scholarship + Enlarge
The family of Ken and Heather Bird are St. Olaf parishioners.
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

BOUNTIFUL — Raising four active boys can be a challenge all on its own, but even so, Heather and Ken Bird have found a way to unite their family in giving to a cause that is dear to their hearts.

The couple’s 6-year-old son, Zeke, was born with Down syndrome. Understanding that their youngest child’s life would be different from that of his brothers, they began to confront the challenges on the path ahead. A friend sent Heather information about Ruby’s Rainbow, an organization that provides scholarships to adults with Down syndrome to help them attend college.

“It opened up a different perspective that we didn’t have to be sad about all the limitations that these doctors were telling us he wouldn’t do, and just focus on all the things that he can do,” Heather said. “He can basically do anything he wants, just like everybody else.”

The Birds are helping other children achieve such goals. They began to host a 3.21K run, which they call the AmaZing Race, on World Down Syndrome Day to help fund a scholarship in Zeke’s name. About 100 people participate in the race each year.

Through the race they learned about a family who was adopting a child with Down syndrome from Ukraine. The Birds donated to help pay for the adoption, and continue to donate to Reece’s Rainbow, which provides grants for international special-need adoptions.

Along with raising funds for these causes, Heather hopes the AmaZing Race will increase awareness about Down syndrome.

“Some of the ideas people have about Down syndrome are so antiquated,” she said. “There’s probably some kids in my generation whose parents were told to just put their kids in an institution. It’s just simply not true.”

Zeke’s life “has worth, just as everybody’s does,” she said. “Zeke’s life has worth regardless of what he accomplishes. His life is just as valuable as anyone else’s, but that’s not everybody’s view.”

Zeke, “just a happy, fun-loving kid” who loves music, is preparing to enter kindergarten in the fall, she said, adding, “He’s actually pretty dang smart” but “he doesn’t always want to show that to people.”

Zeke’s older brothers Ricky, 16, and twins Benny and Nolan, 12, “are just awesome with Zeke,” Heather said. “He loves when they wrestle with him, to play basketball with them. He loves to interact with them.”

The older boys are all involved in sports, so the family spends a lot of time at sporting events, which works out perfectly because Zeke is happiest at a basketball game, Heather said.

Faith provides a grounding in the family’s life, Heather said; they attend St. Olaf Parish in Bountiful.

“My faith helps me to see that God has a purpose in all of my boys’ lives,” she said. “I turn to God a lot; raising boys is not always easy. From teenagers down to Zeke, who is basically in a toddler stage, we’re going through all the stages. I turn to God often to help me through all the different stages of parenting. It feels like I’m parenting the whole gamut right now.”

“The biggest part of our faith that we try to instill in our boys is that everybody has worth,” she added. “Everybody is loved by God; we are inclusive of people of all abilities. I want to parent that into my children, to know that all life has worth regardless of what a lot of other people might say.”

Zeke has brought great joy to their family and also has offered them lessons, Heather said.

“Zeke has really taught us to slow down and enjoy the little things, the things that are truly important,” she said. “I think our life is so fast paced, especially with the older boys, that sometimes you can get going so quickly and forget the little things.”

The AmaZing Race will be held Sunday, March 20 at 4:30 p.m. at Saint Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden. For information, visit https://amazingz.org.

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