Tampa Bay landmarks light up blue and yellow for World Down Syndrome Day

In many ways, Brody Odom is a typical high-octane, four-year-old little boy.

He loves his Yorkshire terrier, Tucker, bubbles, dancing to any and all music and Ms.Sailys, his teacher at Early Steps Montessori Academy.

Unlike many children his age, Brody is not the least bit camera-shy.

Whether it's selfies with mom and dad, camera-laden photojournalists or daunting television crews vying for his effervescent smile, Brody lights up when cameras are near.

He's always been that way.

Diagnosed with Down syndrome before he was born in 2019, Brody realigned his parents' life trajectory in ways neither had imagined. Brock Odom, a forensic mechanical engineer, and Ashley Odom, a pediatric emergency registered nurse, knew that they would educate themselves extensively and involve their only child with as many activities and life events as possible.

Ashley stepped away from her full-time nursing career two and a half years ago. A few months ago, she stepped into an even bigger full-time role as not only Brody's mom but as the executive director and president of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Down Syndrome Special Needs-West Florida.

Active with the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. organization and the special needs community since Brody’s birth, Ashley was a natural fit to step in to replace the indefatigable Ann Foyt, a fellow R.N., as F.R.I.E.N.D.S. president. She’s always kept understanding, inclusion and the celebration of those with special needs at the forefront of her personal mission. 

As the new president, Ashley immediately used her voice to share ideas with cities and municipalities in the Tampa Bay region. March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day; why not light up the cities in blue and yellow, the colors symbolizing Down syndrome awareness?

Tampa and New Port Richey immediately hopped on board.

Old City Hall on World Down Syndrome Day.The City of Tampa lit up the Old City Hall in downtown Tampa, the Kennedy Bridge and the Tampa Riverwalk. The Truist building downtown lit up its ziggurat. Raymond James Stadium also went blue and yellow.

“That was a nice surprise!” Ashley says.

Pasco County lit up the historic Dr. Frederick A. Grassin Bridge in New Port Richey,

Hundreds of special needs families and advocates attended the March 21st official lighting ceremony in downtown Tampa.

At the event, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says there’s a need to establish more all-abilities playgrounds (one opened in New Tampa in late 2022)  and sensory stations throughout the city.

“Tampa’s strength comes from her diversity,” Castor says. “We thrive as one community made up of so many different types of people – especially including our residents with Down syndrome."

With a grant from the Triad Foundation, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. hosted its second joint celebration of World Down Syndrome Day and World Autism Awareness Day on Saturday, March 23rd at ZooTampa. The event drew more than 400 special needs family members and advocates.

“This year's World Down Syndrome Day was truly remarkable," Ashley said. "Witnessing my hometown come together to honor the day and show support for our community was truly unforgettable.”

As president of F.R.I.E.N.D.S., Ashley wants to demystify Down syndrome through community education and events, while providing resources and support to those with special needs.

"Our organization aimed to create something memorable for our community, marking both World Down Syndrome Day and World Autism Awareness Day," Ashley said. "A grand celebration at ZooTampa was the perfect place.”

For more information, go to F.R.I.E.N.D.S. West Florida.
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Read more articles by Kimberly DeFalco.