by Levi Martinka, Hammer Volunteer

My sister Joy has Down syndrome. Some may consider having a sibling with a disability to be a burden. In my mind, it is, and always has been, a blessing. Despite being my younger sister, she has greatly shaped my life (whether she knows it or not). Because she is only three years younger, I in fact, don’t know life any other way. I like to think that my life is completely normal. I treat her like a normal “little sister.” I get under her nerves and she gets under mine.

Joy and Levi typical teensHowever, I know there are extra “challenges” that come with having a sibling with Down syndrome, or any disability for that matter. But, these “challenges” might actually be blessing in disguise. When I look at my life and try to imagine it without Joy, it is radically different. Currently, I am involved in many ways with individuals with disabilities. At Eden Prairie High School, I am a student advisor for a club that provides integrative support for students with special needs, and I am on the dance committee that organizes the “Prom” for those with disabilities. Outside of school, I volunteer with Hammer Residences as an exercise partner. Without Joy in my life, I’m not sure I would be part of any of these organizations. I also don’t know if I would have the friends that I have today. Worst of all, I likely wouldn’t have the values that are important to me and make me who I am.

Next year, I am off to college to start a whole new chapter of my life. As difficult as it will be to live away from my family and the things that I have come to know best, I know I am fully capable of being on my own. I have learned to be compassionate, diligent, understanding and, most importantly, patient. Because of Joy and the numerous experiences I have been a part of, I have met many different people, both disabled and not. There is a common denominator I have noticed in all people – we all want to be understood. Wherever I end up for the next few years, I want to stay involved with those less understood in the community.

Joy and Levi

It will be hard to be away from my family. However, I think my sister might have a harder time with the transition. I can guarantee that every night she will ask: “How many ‘sleeps’ until Levi comes back?” I know it is her dream to be independent and live by herself (along with being a rock-star). It will be hard for me and my younger brother to go off to college knowing Joy wants to so badly. Although I do not know what is in store for her future, my biggest hope is that she feels important and needed. Joy may not know it, but she has made a lasting impact on our community, especially on me. I want her to know this and feel loved.