SHEPHERDSVILLE - After returning home from church camp last summer, 10-year-old Rachel Toll was inspired to help those with Down syndrome.
At camp she learned how to make braided bracelets from bandannas cut into strips and decided to use her newfound craft to raise money for Down Syndrome of Louisville, a non-profit organization dedicated to people of all ages with the genetic disorder.
“It just came out of nowhere,” Rachel said.
In honor of her friend Paul, who has Down syndrome, Rachel called her handmade bracelets “happy bands” and began selling them anywhere people would buy them.
Rachel said the name she chose for her bracelets only made sense, because they make her happy knowing the money they raise goes to help those with special needs and because she knows the meaning behind them would make Paul happy.
The Freedom Elementary fifth grader began selling her “happy bands” for $1 apiece in June after her mother, Jennifer, bought her first bandannas.
Rachel has sold her bracelets everywhere from the Freedom Elementary Fall Festival, to an outdoor market at Okolona Christian Church, which she and her family attend.
Since last year Rachel, her father Rocky and her mother have sold more than 300 “happy bands.”
With mom and dad purchasing the materials for the bracelets, 100 percent of sales go to Down Syndrome of Louisville.
Rachel said that while she wants to raise as much money as possible for those with Down syndrome, her greatest hope is that her efforts will raise awareness of those with special needs and stir others to find ways they too can help.
Rachel said her friend Paul not only motivated her to support those with Down syndrome, he inspired her interest in those with special needs.
“Everything started when I got to know Paul,” Rachel said. “He’s so great. He has so much joy and he helps me see how important it is to be thankful for what you have.”
Rachel’s service to those with special needs goes far beyond her “happy bands.”
In December she began volunteering with AbiliKids, a faith-based program for special needs children who attend Okolona Christian Church.
Rachel underwent special training for the program and now she teaches twice a month.
While most kids her age probably haven’t thought much about their futures, precocious Rachel has already decided she’s going to attend Harvard University, study Down syndrome and become a doctor.
For Christmas she received scrubs and medial books.
When she’s not making “happy bands” or volunteering with special needs kids, Rachel enjoys making crafts, acting, playing piano and trumpet, singing in the Louisville Youth Choir, competing on her school’s academic team, reading, writing and sewing.
As mom explained, keeping up with everything can be challenging at times, but Rachel wouldn’t have it any other way.
Asked if she considered herself as a renaissance girl, Rachel laughed and said she just likes serving and being active.
“Give the world the best and the best will come back to you,” she quoted.