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Local Toddler Makes History For Children With Disabilities

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Jenifer Mahannah describes her 4-year-old daughter Penelope as outgoing, sweet — and like every other 4-year-old — occasionally a diva.

Penelope makes friends easily, said Mahannah. She has no personal bubble of space.

If you’re playing at the park with Penelope, perhaps her favorite spot at Baseline Trailhead Park in Ocala, you will realize she is quick to make an entrance. Although some children might be apprehensive at her differences, living with Down syndrome, Penelope is friendly as always.

It’s no surprise then to her friends and family that Penelope is the first person with Down syndrome to be featured on the cover of Family Times magazine. She won a contest to be featured in their December/January issue based on how many Facebook likes her potential cover got.

“We got over 4,000 likes and completely blew everybody out of the park,” said Mahannah, adding that she’s received a lot of positive feedback so far.

Mahannah promoted her daughter’s cover in different local Facebook groups, with friends, family and strangers praising Penny’s cuteness.

“Penelope is such a beautiful little girl and the perfect choice for the cover,” said Anita Carman, an Ocala resident who saw the magazine cover on Facebook.

She’s among the thousands of people who expressed their support for Penelope’s cover girl debut.

“Everybody that sees Penny, they’re just touched by her unique beauty and she just has this angelic feel to her,” said Mahannah.

Positive energy, researchers say, changes the way we see people with Down syndrome.

“We know from research that the more people are exposed to people with Down syndrome, the more they spend time with people, whether it’s in their churches, in their schools, their communities that they have more positive attitudes,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a University of Florida Health Clinical Geneticist.

It’s about highlighting how a child with Down syndrome is more alike to his or her peers than different, said Rasmussen.

“I think seeing some cute child with Down syndrome on a cover in a magazine really does make more people familiar with Down syndrome, and think of people with Down syndrome as being just like everyone else,” said Rasmussen.

And for Penelope’s mom, she said the sky is the limit for her cover girl.

“She does amazing things without even saying one word, you know?” said Mahannah.

About Dolores Hinckley

Dolores is a reporter for WUFT who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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