Foundation works for a better future for kids with special needs

The South Side mom behind the annual Hollydays fundraiser, Holly Simon, has always focused on finding ways to create more acceptance for people with special needs. This year, she’s hoping to spark more people to create more opportunities to help young adults with special needs live happier, better lives.

If you go


  • 6-10 p.m., Nov. 5
  • Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., Chicago
  • Benefits I Am Who I Am Foundation


She is particularly worried about limited options once children with special needs age out of school at 22. “I want to start spreading the word that kids can do more. It just takes adults to believe in them,” she says. The message she and her I Am Who I Am Foundation is focused on this year is encouraging people to stop setting the bar low for people with special needs and to create more home-grown businesses for them to run.

“I think Hollydays will have our biggest year ever,” says Simon, who started Hollydays after her youngest son, Nate, was born with Down syndrome and she wanted to celebrate his birth and make a difference every year. “We’ve come so far since Nate was born. The pride of parents is astronomical and I am always thinking of ways to include everybody.”

This year’s event will feature 20 artisan vendors, a cocktail mixing seminar by Horse Thief Hollow, martinis and music – but the highlight, as it is every year, is the photographs of very special kids with special needs from around Chicagoland.

Among the vendors will be Kelly Neville, a young woman with Down syndrome whose business, Special Sparkle, sells her handmade jewelry. Garden Center Services, which provides housing for special needs adults, also will be selling handmade candles, note cards, shopping bags and hand-dyed scarves while the Ray Graham Training Center, a Chicago high school, is bringing a few surprises to the event. “Their work is incredible, showing off their hidden talents,” Simon says.

In addition to encouraging creation of more homegrown businesses in the coming year, I Am Who I Am still provides baby blankets to area hospitals when babies are born with special needs, but Simon says the effort needs more funding.

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