Not having kids of my own, I have taken vicarious pride over the years in watching other people’s children blossom into members of a caring community.
So many of our young people in Murray, Ky., do amazing things at home and away, and one who has impressed me from the time she was a very tiny girl is Hannah Babcock.
In a scant twenty years, Hannah has brought distinction to our town with many outstanding accomplishments. Google Ms. Babcock and she pops up at #1. In an article from 2011, when she was in middle school, Hannah and her mom, Pam Rockwell, were flown to Washington D.C. by the National Down Syndrome Society, to represent Kentucky at the 2011 Buddy Walk.
Hannah and her mother also spent a day at the White House, meeting with elected officials to make them aware of issues and concerns pertinent to the health, education and welfare of citizens with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. Congressman Ed Whitfield, then representative of the west Kentucky region, posed for a picture with Hannah and Pam.
Advocacy associated with Down syndrome has been part of Hannah’s life almost from the start. With active support from parents and caregivers, Hannah became involved in activities and programs that were not accustomed to including children with disabilities as active participants. Opportunities to learn abounded, with creative collaboration opening doors that had been closed to people with disabilities in the past.
When Hannah first attended summer day camp at the local community theatre, it became clear that the theatre needed more support to accommodate her needs. With give and take, things worked out and everyone benefited. Since then, Playhouse in the Park has become part of the Penguin Project, a national program designed to engage kids with disabilities in musical theatre.
Hannah participated in the Penguin Project from the start, buoyed by a unique system that pairs young actors with peer mentors. She was a singing, dancing rock in “Jungle Book,” and since that first production has played Miss Hannigan in “Annie” and Tiger Lily in “Peter Pan,” among others.
Back when she was in middle school, Hannah talked about her hopes for the future.
“I want to go to Murray State University and be in the Racer Pep Band,” she said, adding that she was also interested in participating in television production.
MSU’s John Fannin, Assistant Director of Bands, helped Hannah achieve one of her lifelong dreams to take a turn directing the marching band.
“He made it happen,” Pam Rockwell explained. “It takes one person to be willing to face the unknown and be willing to learn something from the process. John was adamant that it was a joint effort between parents, Hannah, and him. It went without a hitch.”
Hannah’s dad, Squire Babcock, is a professor of English at MSU. He lovingly describes his daughter as a “cheerleader, Special Olympics athlete, thespian and all-around goofball.”
His retirement from MSU becomes official at MSU graduation in May, the same day that Hannah will march across the stage to receive official notice of her completion of MSU’s College to Career Experience certificate program, realization of still another goal. Between now and graduation, Hannah will receive a “Yes I Can” award from the National Council for Exceptional Children, acknowledging her exceptional service to school and community.
The award is a highlight of the organization’s 2017 convention and expo, and Hannah and her mother are in Boston this week for the celebration.
“This is what should happen in a humanitarian society,” Pam Rockwell said. “We meet challenges day by day, one by one. Things happen that you can’t foresee, but you keep on.”
For children and adults with disabilities, their parents, and caregivers, the focus on independent living skills and opportunities is unwavering. According to Pam Rockwell, it boils down to this: “Having a job, making a living, going to college, all of these require the correct supports to be in place, and that’s what we are doing.”