Related story: Wine maker donates $10,000 to Reece’s Rainbow
This story was updated at 12:24 p.m., Dec. 18, 2012.
Ten years ago, life took an unexpected path for Andrea Roberts and her husband.
Roberts’ baby was born with Down syndrome, a chromosome disorder that causes delays in cognitive ability and physical growth.
Roberts didn’t know at the time that 10 years later she would help 900 children with Down syndrome, HIV and other special needs from all over the world find new, loving parents.
Roberts founded Reece’s Rainbow. Named after her son, the nonprofit advocacy and adoption grant/fundraising foundation helps families find loving children from all over the world needing a home. They are not, however, an adoption agency.
“What we do is seek out and advocate for orphans around the world who have Down syndrome, specifically, and other special needs as well,” Roberts says. “Pretty much everything we do is social media and web-based to raise awareness of the need of these children. Most people don’t even realize that these kids are waiting or what they’re living through.
“[We also use social media to] encourage donations as adoption grants, which help families who are interested and qualified to be able to afford the high cost of rescuing them from these orphanages and mental institutions from abroad.”
With the average adoption costing $25,000, according to Roberts, providing financial assistance to families looking to adopt is a major priority — and with that comes fundraising and the need for donations.
Enter Kiersten Lyons, stage right.
Lyons, a Germantown native, has appeared on several television shows, including “Mad Men,” “Justified,” “Bones,” and, currently, in a recurring role in the ABC alien comedy, “The Neighbors.”
Lyons is set to bring her one-woman show, “Crushed: Why Is It The Boys You Like Never Like You Back?,” to the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg at 8 p.m. on Thursday and 7 p.m. on Friday.
All proceeds from Friday’s show will be split between Reece’s Rainbow and two families that are adopting.
“She contacted me out of the blue. I really don’t remember how it is she found us,” Roberts says. “She contacted me out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, I’m from Germantown, I’m from just up the road and this is who I am and this is what I’d like to do,’ and I was like, ‘OK.’”
Lyons, who made a special friend in elementary school, says she’s always had a heart for children.
“When I was in third grade, we had a program at Waters Landing Elementary School where the kids from the special needs class would come into your classroom for about half the day,” Lyons says. “There was a kid named Mac who came in for half the day and I actually talk about him in my show. He was my buddy. From third to sixth grade, he would come into whatever my classroom was and he was my buddy. He was just the neatest kid. He had some birth defects, but he was such a neat kid.”
Lyons said she was drawn to children with special needs, especially Down syndrome.
“I moved out here and I kind of always felt like, when I got married I would adopt a kid — I would love to adopt a child with Down syndrome. About a year ago, I started just looking into how I could help financially with some families who were looking into that and I just stumbled upon Reece’s Rainbow. I don’t think I even know how I found them.
“[I was] able to donate to two families. One was from Germantown, Maryland, which is great.”
According to Roberts, the waiting list to adopt a child with Down syndrome in the United States is incredibly long.
“That is why our focus is abroad because those children are left in orphanages and they go to adult mental institutions at the age of 4,” Roberts says.
Roberts admits that she and her husband went through a bit of a grieving period just after Reece was born. It didn’t take long, however, for that grief to turn into unconditional love.
“Every day is a struggle. Some days Reece is a real pain the rear end,” Roberts says with a laugh. “As he was getting into his six months to two years range, he was just this little sunshine in a body. He was just amazing, he was so amazing.”
Roberts says her faith in God has helped her get through tough times. She also feels God gave her Reece for a reason.
“I know that had Reece not been born with Down syndrome, I would not be doing any of this,” Roberts says. “I absolutely believe that and I really leaned on that a lot as we were going through the emotional process of our whole world being turned upside down and trying to rewrite and have a new future that we weren’t quite expecting. I leaned on that very heavily.
“I never would have asked for a child with special needs, and that’s the reality. I would have never asked for that. But God apparently thought that it would do me good and do the world good.”
Lyons, a self-described “reforming TV junkie,” decided to put together “Crushed” after watching Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show.
“[‘Crushed’ is] real life. It’s 100 percent based on my experiences as a very awkward girl growing up that looked like a boy,” Lyons says. “It tracks me through all of my former loves throughout the years and starts with my first crush, which was on a Han Solo action figure.
“The coolest thing about ‘Crushed’ is that about 75 percent of it takes place in Germantown.”
Lyons, who volunteers with Big Sisters, Little Sisters in Los Angeles, says she got the initial idea to put together the “Crushed” story while she was mentoring teens.
“I used to give talks to teenage girls about self esteem and I used to work with teens and they always talked about ‘Boys never like me!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, kid, you got nothing. Let me tell you some stories …’” Lyons says. “And it was just a way of letting them know they weren’t alone. I started to write a book, then everything kind of fizzled when my relationship ended and I was in the standstill of not really knowing what was going on. About a year, two years later, I started writing the pilot for a television show and it went out to some agents and they were like, ‘Wow, this is good. We want to see more.’
“These are stories that I have been telling for years. I’ve told them in stand-up comedy … they are hysterically embarrassing stories. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I can laugh at them.”
For the former girl from Germantown with the bowl haircut, giving people an opportunity to laugh and think about their own lives is what it’s all about.
“Whether you’re a girl or a boy, a man or a woman, I think most of us go through that feeling of, ‘Why is it that the thing that we wanted, we didn’t get?’,” Lyons says. “It doesn’t matter how hard we work or how much we care, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. What I love about ‘Crushed’ is the universality of it. I get so much feedback from it. People say, ‘Gosh, you remind me of when I was in sixth grade and I told this boy I loved him and then he rejected me,’ or, ‘You reminded me of when I wanted this job and I didn’t get it.’
“It’s something that’s so relatable and it’s also so fun. It’s not a life lesson that’s, ‘OK, here we go …’ It’s just a funny way for you to laugh at me and probably remember some stories from your youth.”
Meanwhile, Roberts says couples looking to adopt shouldn’t be afraid to open their hearts to a special-needs child.
“It’s not as scary as they think. It makes a big difference when you are, at least for me anyway, the biological parents of a child with special needs who were not expecting to have special needs,” Roberts says. “When you choose to adopt a child with Down syndrome or other special needs, you get to skip the whole grieving part, which was the hardest part.
“You get to know that child and love that child with your eyes wide open and having had a chance to research and prepare and open your hearts to a new life yourself by choice.”