Proactive, musical kids support Down syndrome research

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In America, around one in 800 babies are born with Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality caused by a cell division that results in an additional 21st chromosome. The majority of people living with Down syndrome have cognitive delays ranging from mild to severe.

Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation (DSRTF) is unique in that it funds solely biomedical research focused on improving cognition — including learning, memory and speech — in persons with Down syndrome. The DSRTF ultimately funds this research so those with Down syndrome can lead more independent lives and avoid the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Barbara Villalobos is a parent of a child with Down syndrome. After trying multiple therapies and tutoring, she realized that her son, Jack, needs something more.

“If he can access a drug treatment that will trigger the parts of the brain responsible for memory, so many more possibilities open up for him,” Villalobos said. “Down syndrome science is so close now that I felt compelled to do my part and push forward on this momentum.”

Not one to sit on her hands, Villalobos organized a fundraiser concert called Jackapalooza — named after her son — that was held on April 27 at the Winnetka Covenant Church, located at 1200 Hibbard Rd. in Wilmette. Performers from the Music Institute of Chicago (MIC) in Winnetka took the stage to join in on the cause-something they all volunteered to do.

“The concert was a great success,” Villalobos said. “The musicians performed exceptionally well, and parents of performers commented that they were happy that their children had the opportunity to participate in such an event.

Approximately $4,500 has been raised for Down syndrome research to date.

“Many classmates of both of my sons, Eric, who performed, and Jack, who has Down syndrome, were present and enthusiastic supporters,” Villalobos said. “I was touched by the outpouring of support. It was definitely a win-win for Down syndrome research, our children’s participation in community service and education to the general public about the lack of funding for Down syndrome research and the status of current research.”

“I chose this forum — a music concert by young musicians — because I also think it is important for children to do their part to make the world a better place,” Villalobos said. “They can use their talents to help their peers, children with whom they integrate all the time in the classroom, on the playground and with whom they will integrate in the workplace.”

“This opportunity to perform for a good cause means a lot to me,” said volunteer musician, Christine Yeh, who has been playing piano at the MIC for more than a decade.

Antony Simonoff, a seasoned performer and current student at the MIC, said: “Even in my young age, I can become a part of something bigger and important that will help people with Down syndrome to be included in the everyday life of the community. We all want to be loved and cared for and if I can show my love and care with my work to others I think I will have done something right.”

“It means a lot to me to be a part of this event because my little brother has Down syndrome. I would like to understand what goes through his mind and help him in any way I can to improve his speech and to help him at school” said Eric Pirrie, student at the MIC. “It makes me feel really great to be a part of such a worthy cause that will not only help my brother, but countless others with Down syndrome and their families.”

If you want to support the cause, please donate at and click “Jackapalooza” in the drop-down menu on the donation page.