As 20-year-old Tyler Wiley works on painting ornaments at Shared Lives Studio in downtown Toledo, it's clear he likes to concentrate when he's creating art. A division of Lott Industries, the studio is a nonprofit visual arts center where artists with disabilities get together to create and sell their artwork. Mr. Wiley's work is displayed on one of the walls in the studio and some of the ceramic pieces he's created are available for purchase.
Although it's still early, Mr. Wiley is gearing up for the Christmas season and even submitted an entry for an ornament competition.
The results won't be back for a few more weeks, but his mother, Sandy Wiley-Steward, said her son believes he has already won. His entry was a design of a banana with a mustache.
Although artwork is a large part of his life, he is also heavily involved with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Toledo, of which he is on the board of directors.
He is especially involved with the organization's upcoming Buddy Walk. Mr. Wiley and his family have participated in the event since its inception more than a decade ago. This year's walk, which raises awareness for Down syndrome, is to take place Sunday at the University of Toledo.
Ms. Wiley-Steward said the event is good for generating friendships and sharing support.
"It's a family event. They have music and food and arts and crafts. It's just a time where everybody can come together."
During the walk, Shared Lives Studio will have a table of artwork for sale. Ms. Wiley-Steward said the event helps foster acceptance for Down syndrome, which is a chromosomal abnormality that occurs in "one in every 691 live births," according to the National Association for Down Syndrome.
"It's public acceptance," she said. "The more we see them in the community, the more the public's going to be comfortable."
Sherri Rogers, president of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Toledo, agreed that encouraging acceptance is a large part of the event.
"Just having all of the individuals with Down syndrome in the area out and about, it brings family and friends, just to kind of show that they're just like everybody else," she said.
Since he started school, Ms. Wiley-Steward has made sure her son has had opportunities that put him in front of a crowd.
"When he was in seventh grade, I started him speaking monthly at the school board meetings. He was so nervous and by the end of his senior year, he would just grab that microphone. It helped them realize all the potential people with disabilities have," she said.
Last year, Mr. Wiley graduated from Rogers High School.
His favorite part of participating in the walk is reconnecting with friends he's made over the years. But he also wants others in the community to know the walk is taking place. His mother was surprised when she found a message from him on Facebook, telling people at his siblings' school about the event.
"I'm going through Facebook and he had posted to the Beverly [Elementary School] families, 'please come out and support people with Down syndrome.' I had no idea. It was just kinda neat that he's empowered enough to do those things independently," she said.
The Buddy Walk will also raise money for research and education. Registration begins at noon with the walk at 2 p.m. Events end at 4 p.m.