Vanessa Barrett is living proof of the adage that what makes you different makes you beautiful
A piece of colourful word art hung on the wall near Vanessa Barrett’s desk sums up well the 24-year-old’s attitude towards life. “What makes you different is what makes you beautiful,” Vanessa said slowly, emphasizing each word on the framed picture.
Born with Down syndrome, Vanessa’s life is all about ability rather than disability.
In addition to her jobs at the NL Down Syndrome Society and the Hair Factory, Vanessa runs her own business via her Facebook page “Looms by Vanessa” which she founded in 2016. She creates loom bracelets and key chains that are as colourful as they are beautiful, donating 25 per cent of her profits to the NL Down Syndrome Society.
She lives in St. John’s with her parents Cheryl and Roger Barrett and her 11-year-old sister, Chelsea.
Cheryl said the family is grateful to Kelly Denine for giving Vanessa her first community exposure (in February 2017) with her loom business. Denine hosted a craft fair and allowed Vanessa to sell her product at the fair. Vanessa now uses social media to promote her business and sells her products at school fairs and at Busy Hands Arts and Crafts in Carbonear. “I’m the owner and the designer of my business,” Vanessa said.
Vanessa’s tremendous accomplishments, in the face of adversity, are testaments of her friendliness and determination. “The day I graduated (from College of the North Atlantic in June 2014), I went into the Hair Factory and asked Dale (Abbott) for a job,” she said. Abbott, who owns the Hair Factory, offered Vanessa part-time work.
She enjoyed the job so much that, when she clinched the position at the NL Down Syndrome Society she continued to work at the Hair Factory.
“I clean and I get the foils ready, mix the colours for them. I do the garbage and I am going to train to wash people’s hair. I like making money,” Vanessa said.
When contacted about hiring Vanessa, Abbott said Vanessa knew that there was another employee, who also lives with Down syndrome, working at the salon.
“Amanda Roche has been with us for nine years. Vanessa knew she was working with us and she asked me for a job, too,” Abbott recalled. “They are truly amazing. They have bought so much to our lives. They are both team players and love being part of the team. And we love having them.”
Pride in her abilities
Vanessa said she also loves her job as administrative assistant at the NL Down Syndrome Society. She started that job in October 2017. “People call about me going into the schools for presentations and we talk about Down syndrome. I show so much pride in it and my ability,” she said.
Down syndrome occurs when an error in cell division results in an extra chromosome. The condition can affect an individual’s cognitive ability and physical growth, cause mild to moderate developmental issues and present a higher risk of some health problems.
Vanessa is not only doing her part to highlight the abilities of people living with Down syndrome but also giving hope to new parents who have a child born with Down syndrome.
“A new family who has a baby with Down syndrome doesn’t know much about it. But people go into the (NL Down Syndrome Society) office and see just what Vanessa is capable of. They see her Facebook page and they feel now their child has hope,” Cheryl said.
Cheryl said she’s never looked at Vanessa as a child with a disability. It has always been important for her family to focus on ways for Vanessa to do what other children do, albeit, sometimes, in a different way. “People are misinformed about their abilities. If they work hard enough, they can do anything. And that’s what myself and her father have always instilled in Vanessa.”
Cheryl said she had no idea Vanessa was making and selling the bracelets until she got a call from a health professional at the Janeway about six years ago.
The woman explained that she’d been in contact with Vanessa through the Looms by Vanessa Facebook page and that Vanessa was selling the bracelets to support the Down syndrome Society.
“I looked at her Facebook page then and there were eight or nine people I didn’t know who had put in orders.”
Vanessa also sells wool hats that she makes on a loom. When Cheryl and her husband realized Vanessa was indeed making and selling bracelets, they sat down with their daughter and came up with a business plan. “I was trying to explain to Mom that I love making my own income money… I give money to the Down Syndrome Society and I’m saving up for Paris,” Vanessa explained.
Knowing how much Vanessa is longing to visit Paris, the family is planning a vacation there in 2020. Outside of work, Vanessa likes spending time with her boyfriend, Robbie Dewling, participating in Special Olympics sports and taking part in Pursuing Active Living Skills classes through the City of St. John’s.
“We’re very proud as her parents. Vanessa doesn’t let Down syndrome define who she is,” Cheryl said.
Vanessa is very much aware that she is the focus of this interview. While content to let her mother expand on some of her answers, she is also intent on expressing the thoughts she’d gathered in preparing for the interview.
“I’d like to say something else. It’s about my music. I play the piano and I play the drums and I’m a singer and a songwriter,” she said.
Vanessa’s message is clear. ‘‘We can do things on our own. I want people to know how capable people with Down syndrome can be, if we are given the chance,” she said.
What makes Vanessa different is indeed what makes her beautiful.