Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Guest Blog by Pamela McCormick

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I asked Pamela McCormick to share her thoughts, perspectives, and story of her beautiful daughter, Bernadette.


Our entry into the world of Down Syndrome was probably a common one. We were a big busy family, caught up in the craziness of Christmas and awaiting the arrival of baby #8. “My plan” was to have the baby, get home the next day and continue with cooking, wrapping, carpooling and so on. But it’s funny how ‘my plan’ did not work out. When the doctor told me that our sweet Bernadette showed symptoms of Down Syndrome, ‘my plan’ and that of my family’s changed forever. Yes, those first few weeks were filled with tears and fear of the unknown, but it was also filled with a sense of hope and excitement that I can’t quite justifiably define – as if a vast new door was just opening. A door into a life, a mindset, a community that I had never known existed.

Our new life as a family with Bernadette is very hard to describe. If asked, one word comes to mind: love. Why ‘love’? Because everything now somehow has a greater sense of joy and patience surrounding it. And that’s because everything now has, in some way, something to do with Bernadette. Not just because she is the youngest, but because she IS Bernadette. She exudes this contagious expression of excitement and warmth that urges us to recognize the beauty in the smallest joys in life – even as small as a simple high-five. And just when you think 7 older kids would get frustrated with their baby sister, the opposite has proven true. In fact, they are more inspired – inspired to laugh more, to smile often, and to see the optimistic side of things as Bernadette somehow always does. They still come home from school and immediately look to play with her. They still pray specifically for her at dinner prayers. They love her with a love I could never have imagined. And that special love spreads throughout our entire family.

The community Bernadette has brought to us has been refreshing. All of us as a family realize how many individuals there are with disabilities. Our eyes have been opened to the many special people all around us. I am amazed at the number of people I know with Down Syndrome relatives. I used to ask myself, “How did I not know this before?” I didn’t need to, that is why. I never knew the amount of people that volunteer for Special Olympics, have Down Syndrome support blogs and Facebook pages, and actually work at the BNI. These are individuals who inspire me. These are the type of people who instinctively put others first and take absolute joy in doing so. I consider it a tremendous gift from Bernadette that I get to meet more and more of these people.

I could not imagine my world without Bernadette. And I could not imagine Bernadette not having Down Syndrome. I actually had someone ask me once, “Do you ever wish she, you know, was normal? Wouldn’t it be easier?” I almost let my frustration and shock get the best of me. My frustration that some people simply do not understand how great of a blessing Bernadette is in our lives. In these past few years I have learned to be more patient and accepting of people and their comments (and looks). I know Down Syndrome makes many people uncomfortable, and I just smile and try to ease their discomfort. I know Bernadette will lead a life totally different than that of her siblings, and I absolutely cannot wait to live it with her!

McCormick Family

Pamela McCormick was born and raised in Erie, PA. She and her husband, Matt, have eight children ranging in ages from 3 to 21. When she is not in the car driving kids to various practices, Pamela enjoys reading and spending time outside.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Power of a Positive Mind!


I am someone who believes my cup is always HALF FILLED, NOT HALF  EMPTY. However, it can be easy to be a negative thinker these days, what with newspaper headlines and news programs often focusing on controversy  and conflict in the United States and overseas. Constant exposure to troubling stories can make you think, “There’s nothing happy in the world anymore.” But, I would suggest that is certainly not true!

Since October is Positive Attitude Month, I thought I’d share a few tips that can be your “secret weapon.” They make many difficult or frustrating situations easier to deal with and being positive can improve your health and relationships.

  • Take time to help others. You can volunteer at a community organization or simply help your neighbor. Helping others enables you to see how you personally are able to have a positive impact on the world. I can promise you that you’ll feel good after!
  • Positive Thinking. Thinking positively can actually change what is possible for you …really! Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations, for example: “I hate getting up in the morning” with “I am grateful for a new day.”
  • Surround yourself with positive people. When you do this, you will directly impact your attitude.

At the Elizabeth Lee Black School, we’ve been embracing the Positive Attitude month as a year-long theme. As emotional well-being of our students and faculty is our first priority, we developed a school-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports plan that focuses on Being Kind, Being Safe and Being Independent.

Yes, we face many challenges in our world today, but one person, one positive action, can make a difference! To share a quote by Maria Shriver, “I believe that we all have the power within us to make this a better world – not just for you, but for everyone whose path we cross.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Disability Employment Month

ridge_tom-1.jpgWe are very excited to have Governor Tom Ridge with us for our luncheon on Monday to celebrate Disability Employment Month! Governor ridge serves as Chairman of the Board of the National Organization for Disabilities (NOD) and is a committed advocate for employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

It was 38 years ago that Governor Ridge, a member of the House representing the 21st District, served on a panel at Erie Insurance Exchange on employment of persons with disabilities. So what have we accomplished during those years?

Our Supported Employment program assists adults in locating and interviewing for jobs and provides coaches to teach adults the responsibilities of the new position. This service is free of charge for employers, who can be assured that adults they hire will be trained to do the job to their satisfaction.

Across the Erie community, scores of businesses have opened their doors to hiring people with disabilities. Over the last several years, the Barber National Institute has placed more than 500 adults with disabilities in jobs with local employers, including food service, housekeeping, light manufacturing, retail and other industries.

Currently, 50 local businesses employ adults with intellectual disabilities who have been trained through our supported employment program.

So what do we see as goals for the future?

The employment rate of persons with disabilities in Pennsylvania between the ages of 21-64 is at 37%. We would like that number to continue to rise.

As a community, I encourage everyone to embrace the belief that people with developmental disabilities and autism bring added value to our jobs. They create diversity in the workplace, which increases workplace morale. They are also typically prompt, work until the job is complete, are not searching for alternative employment, and are dedicated to doing a thorough job.

Most recently, Governor Ridge led the charge to launch Look Closer, a national awareness campaign by NOD to encourage hiring managers to consider employing more persons with disabilities, as they are a diverse, highly capable, and largely untapped talent pool.

Bellos Award

On a personal note, upon graduation, Ryan began working at Bello’s Market with the support of a job coach. He does a multiple of maintenance tasks including stocking shelves, replacing pops, garbage and the usual housekeeping tasks a market requires. Ryan loves his job. He has never missed a day unless we are out of town. I am grateful to the Bello Family for their willingness to hire Ryan and he just received an award for completing five years! Way to go Ryan!

I am looking forward to Governor Ridge’s perspective as we move into 2020. Reservations are still being accepted for the Luncheon. To reserve a seat, you can register online at or call 814-480-6810.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Eye-Opening Moment

All it takes is for a simple accident to view life in a new perspective! Just 10 days ago, unbeknownst to either of us, Ryan’s water bottle had leaked in the hallway. I slipped during the middle of the night, which resulted in a fractured femur.

I am so fortunate to have many caring people in my life:

  • My family who immediately “jumped in” to help with this challenge
  • Friends who were but a phone call away to meet me at the hospital, and now regularly visit and assist with anything I may need
  • The BNI Family – administration, staff, students, families – who immediately sent their prayers and well wishes. We truly are a family!

I have also learned a lot from this experience; I now appreciate the ability to move to a much greater degree than I ever thought possible. You truly don’t know what you have until it’s gone! I am looking forward to once again being able to get up to take a walk, go for a run, or simply sit outside to enjoy the beautiful weather.

Certainly, I would never want anyone to ever experience an injury as I did, though it was an “eye opener.” I look at each day now with a new sense of life and beginning.

Thank you to everyone – I am so grateful for all of your support!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Celebrating Founder’s Day

Let the festivities begin! Today is Founder’s Day, a celebration held each year in honor of Dr. Gertrude Barber’s birthday and to commemorate our enduring mission. When this day comes around, I always like to reflect on her accomplishments, which in turn allowed us to become the Barber National Institute.

If we take a look back in time to the year 1952, services for persons with disabilities were nonexistent.  As an Erie School District psychologist, it was Dr. Barber’s responsibility to tell parents that their son or daughter could not attend school because of their disability. Parents were left with two options: send their child to a faraway institution or keep them at home.

Both she and the children’s families wanted so much more – thus began the Barber Center.

There wasn’t any funding in the early years. The program was supported by ice cream socials, card parties, and raffles. Dr. Barber used to say that all of their money could fit in a cigar box – and it did! It wasn’t until the mid-60s that state funding finally became available through the MH/MR Procedures Act, as well as the Department of Education. Fortunately, our programs were already in place and could be immediately funded. We were many years ahead of others in the field.

A lot of growth happened in the 70s. We became an Approved Private School, serving children whose school districts could not offer an adequate education. Additionally, we established several community group homes and satellite programs in Girard and Corry. We had a groundbreaking ceremony for our new therapeutic swimming pool and our physical and occupational therapy facilities.

In the 80s, we established an adult rehabilitation, employment, and training center, added more classrooms to our school, and initiated an Inclusive Day Care program and a Child Development Center. At times, it seemed as if our facilities could not grow fast enough to meet the needs of the community. By the time the 90s rolled around, we were ready to expand across the state and opened residential services for adults in Philadelphia. Not too long after, we opened the same services in Pittsburgh.

Project 2000, Dr. Barber’s ultimate quest, was our first major capital campaign since 1966. Our goal was that this funding could provide a new school and training center. $7 million later… Dr. Barber announced the Project’s success and broke ground!

Dr. Barber’s dream was that children and adults with disabilities would be able to learn and grow in their own community, in which they would find acceptance and opportunity. This vision has positively changed the lives of thousands of children and adults over the last 67 years and has opened doors and minds by promoting these ideals.


Dr. Barber herself says it best:

“Our focus has continued to be a mission of faith, hope, and love – to open the doors where they were closed – to bring sunlight where there was darkness – faith where there was despair.

Let’s always lead with a mission to open doors.”

Dr. Gertrude A. Barber, 1995

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The 7th Annual Beast on the Bay

It is hard to believe that it has been six days since the Beast!

Ryan and his friend Logan finished in about 2 hours and 45 minutes. I was watching for them as they ran up the hill to Waldameer…the runners looked EXHAUSTED!

In past years, Ryan was still running as he came up the hill. However, this year, he and Logan were walking up with tired looks on their faces. So, I cheered them on and they ran to the wave pool and then on through the finish line. He immediately grabbed a bottle of water and an apple.

His first words were: “It definitely was harder this year. Running on the sand was really tough.” He was ready to take off, get home for his shower and go out to lunch. Of course, the wave pool and the lunch out were his two major reinforcers for doing the Beast.

Some of my take aways included:

  • Everyone from both the adaptive and full course had a contagious enthusiasm from the starting line.
  • Many, many more walkers took part this year. They told me that they wanted to support the Barber National Institute and persons with disabilities.
  • Diverse demographics were represented, of young and old and all levels of fitness.
  • Whether they were part of a team or by themselves, everyone was there to assist their fellow runners as they climbed the 30+ obstacles. It was one for all and all for one.
  • Participants on the adaptive course were thrilled to compete and were so proud and joyful to receive their medals. Many of them are still wearing the medals today at work.

The Beast is a labor-intensive event with over 400 volunteers and thousands of man/woman hours involved in the planning, organizing and constructing the course. Is it worth all that effort? I would say without a doubt, YES.

The community comes together for an event which raises awareness of persons with disabilities and their integral role in the community. It is a fund raiser, but most importantly a friend raiser. If you could see the happiness in the eyes of the participants as they complete the adaptive course, I think that you would agree with me.

It’s not too early to sign up for the 2020 Beast on the Bay. Ryan has, why not join his team?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back to School

I thought that I would share with you today the letter I sent home with our students the first day of school.
It summarizes many of my thoughts as I contemplate the new school year.

As I think about our first day of school, I look back to 1952 when Dr. Barber and her volunteers first opened their classroom for children with disabilities. Since then, generations of children have gone from counting blocks to employment in a diversity of fields. A lot has changed in those 68 years, but what has remained constant is our dedication to children and families.

We are educators, therapists, caregivers who are committed to instilling in our students a love of learning. This is our mission. For the last 68 years and for the next 68 years. Thank you for allowing us to be your child’s teacher.

I’m looking forward to an outstanding school year!

I know that it will be an outstanding year for our students, families and staff.
My best!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment