Ruby's Rainbow



Grants assist students with Down syndrome



By Kelli Weldon



Being a 3-year-old often involves new experiences and challenges, and Ruby Plachta has experienced many of the ups and downs associated with the age, her mother Liz Plachta said.



"While yes, she is happy and inspiring and hilarious most of the time, she is an almost-4-year-old, and she will tell you 'No,'" she laughs.



In her more pleasant moments, Liz said, Ruby enjoys working on art projects, spending time at her Montessori school and elementary school, and playing with her older sister Ella Mae, age 6.



"She's totally rocking all of her sight words," Liz said, explaining Ruby—who has Down syndrome—recognizes 'Mommy,' 'Daddy,' 'cat' and other useful terms. "She's smart. So smart."



Liz and her husband, Tim, who are Southwest Austin residents, said when they learned Ruby has Down syndrome they were inspired to give back to the community. Liz volunteered with local organizations and set out to provide more resources and support for individuals with Down syndrome.



"There's a lot of stuff for the [children] as far as early interventions and things like that," Liz said. "Once they graduate from high school, there wasn't a ton of support, so that's where we decided to focus our efforts."



The Plachtas formed the nonprofit Ruby's Rainbow in 2012 to offer post-secondary scholarships to students with Down syndrome.



Tim, the vice president and co-founder, said that while he and Liz have already established a fund for Ruby to use if she decides to go to college when the time comes, many parents do not or cannot afford to make those preparations.



"Our first year, our goal was to raise one single $2,000 scholarship, and we ended up granting 11 scholarships totaling $21,000. We exceeded our own expectations," he said.



Scholarship recipients have attended universities such as UCLA, Vanderbilt and George Mason, as well as Austin Community College, Tim said.



"For me the coolest part is that every time I open my mailbox and I get a new application, it's like a little fast-forward to Ruby's future," Liz said. "To see what opportunities are available, to see what [applicants] have done, it really gives me inspiration to work harder to [not only] help more of them but [also] give Ruby all the right opportunities so that one day she'll be able to [go to college]."



Funding students' futures



Ruby's Rainbow provides scholarships for individuals with Down syndrome who want to pursue post-secondary education, enrichment or vocational classes, President and co-founder Liz Plachta said.



"The need is great," she said, noting in 2014 more than 32 people applied for scholarships, and the nonprofit was able to grant 18.



Ruby's Rainbow scholarships are valued at up to $3,000 per awarded individual, depending on available funds.



Students can also be awarded the Maudie's scholarship, which provides up to $5,000 to one applicant per year.



What is Down syndrome?



Each cell in the body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, and Down syndrome occurs when an individual has an extra copy of the 21st chromosome.



According to the National Down Syndrome Society, common physical traits of Down syndrome include small stature and an upward slant to the eyes, but individuals can exhibit these characteristics to different degrees or not at all.



Events and volunteering



Southwest Austin resident Doreen Pairsh said volunteering at the annual Rockin' RainBOWL bowling event and the Maudie's Cup golf tournament are great ways to give back. She said she enjoys reading about Ruby's Rainbow grant recipients on the nonprofit's "Rockin' Recipients" Web page.



"It's just amazing to be able to raise money and then actually see the young adults who get the scholarships and follow their [progress]," she said.



The nonprofit accepts donations and is looking for more corporate sponsors, co-founder Tim Plachta said.



Ruby's Rainbow, P.O. Box 153095, Austin, TX 78715, 512-879-7801, www.rubysrainbow.org, www.facebook.com/rubysrainbow, Twitter: @RubysRainboworg