Vicksburg woman named Emma Grace Hayes Everyday Hero

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 18, 2008

What started as a friendship in elementary school has blossomed into regional recognition for a Vicksburg woman.

Beth Ann Sullender is the 2008 recipient of the Emma Grace Hayes Everyday Hero Award. The honor, given to an individual older than 16 with Down syndrome, was announced a week ago in Flowood, during the Central Mississippi Down Syndrome Society’s sixth annual Buddy Walk. Sullender, 32, the daughter of Patti Sullender and the late Joe Sullender, will receive a plaque and $100.

“I was very excited and happy when I won the award,” said Sullender, who was nominated by longtime friend Natalie Pittman.

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Sullender and Pittman met in fourth grade. The two were paired during a class project to help students learn about individuals with disabilities. A friendship formed.

“I could not imagine then how this experience would change my life,” Pittman wrote in her letter nominating Sullender for the award. “It was during this assignment that I met a new friend named Beth Ann Sullender. I had so much fun working with her and getting to know her. She captured a special place in my heart, even at such an early age.”

Years later, Pittman’s daughter Caroline would be diagnosed with Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that causes developmental disabilities.

“When my 2-year-old daughter Caroline was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after her birth, one of my first thoughts was of Beth Ann and her family,” Pittman wrote. “I thought of how God had placed Beth Ann in my life and given me a special love for her and others like her.”

The Emma Grace Hayes Everyday Award was created and sponsored by Robbie and Emily Hayes of Southaven, who had a daughter with Down syndrome.

“Natalie called me and asked me if she could enter Beth Ann. I just thought it was so nice for Natalie to do this,” said Sullender’s mother, Patti Sullender.

October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

In addition to winning the Emma Grace Hayes award, Sullender won gold and bronze medals for swimming in the 2006 national Special Olympics.


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