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PALS celebrates 20 years of creating a more inclusive community for people with Down syndrome

PALS celebrates 20 years of inclusivity, unity and understanding of people with Down syndrome
PALS celebrates 20 years of inclusivity, unity and understanding of people with Down syndrome 02:18

RADNOR, Pa. (CBS) -- A special summer camp on the grounds of the now-closed Cabrini University is celebrating 20 years of transforming the lives of young people. Camp PALS pairs up groups of peers with and without Down syndrome to foster inclusion and understanding. 

The nonprofit camp experience now operates at 10 different locations across the U.S. but got its start in the Delaware Valley. Jenni Newbury Ross started the camp in 2004, at age 16, as a way to connect with her brother, Jason, who has Down syndrome.


"When I first was kind of approached with the idea of starting PALS, we were just a couple of teenagers," Newbury Ross said. "I really didn't have an opportunity, a place that my brother and I could go together. It felt like a lot of times the things in our life were either for him or for me. PALS was the first place that was for the both of us."

The camp started with 16 sibling pairs, including Newbury Ross and her brother. Twenty years later, the camp serves 1,200 campers across 10 different U.S. locations.

"This was the first place that I met other siblings, this was the first place that I really could have other people understand Jason's value and see him for who he was," she said. "That one-to-one pairing really modeled that kind of sibling relationship that I had growing up."


Rebecca Knight, who has Down syndrome, has been attending the camp for 10 years. She said she encourages other people to come to PALS. 

"It's lots of fun," Knight said. "It's a good experience for them and they meet new people."

Knight, who is 28, was paired up with Alie Fehl, a 22-year-old graduate student at New Hampshire University. Fehl had never gotten to know another person with Down syndrome until now.

"Everybody is going to be different and unique in their own ways," she said. "It just helps you be more aware and just more comfortable knowing how to interact."


PALS is hosting a special 20th anniversary party at the Dixon Center on Cabrini University's campus. It starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, and tickets are $50 per person. You can get tickets at the door.

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