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Scottdale couple takes part in Dash for Down Syndrome

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Gary and Christina Phillips with daughter Luciana.
Gary and Christina Phillips with daughter Luciana.
The Wood Group Mustang team that participated in the Oct. 15 Dash for Down Syndrome. In front of the group is the company's mascot, Blue.
The Wood Group Mustang team that participated in the Oct. 15 Dash for Down Syndrome. In front of the group is the company's mascot, Blue.

Gary and Christina Phillips like to volunteer their time in many ways, be it to help those in need or just to support the community.

The Scottdale couple became more involved when their daughter Luciana, 7 months, was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.

One such recent event involved their participation in the Three Rivers Dash for Down Syndrome, which took place Oct. 15 at Hartwood Acres in Allison Park.

“We, essentially, wanted to be involved,” Gary Phillips explained. “We wanted to get to know the organization, wanted to help raise funds for (Down Syndrome Association) of Pittsburgh, knowing it has been a help to us....”(Luciana's diagnosis) got us involved, having a direct impact on our lives. It goes along with my personal commitment of giving back to the community. If more people gave back to their communities, the world would be a much better place.”

The “Dash” included an awareness walk and food, entertainment and activities for people of all ages and abilities. Donations and scholarship funds stay with the local community and directly impacts families. It also promotes the acceptance of individuals with Down syndrome.

Joining Gary and Christina at the event were more than 30 of his coworkers from Wood Group Mustang Inc. in Canonsburg and members of their families, something that was much appreciated.

“The company has really supported us. They support their people,” Phillips said. “It's just really wonderful to work for that kind of company that actually cares for its people. I can't say enough about the support and caring we received.”

Jim Albitz, general manager of Wood Group Mustang's Canonsburg office, stressed that taking care of its people has long been the company's legacy.

“When evaluating which charities to support, we look first to the causes that are having the greatest impact on our own people's lives,” Albitz said. “The Three Rivers Dash for Down Syndrome is a prime example of this. Mustanger Gary Phillips and his family have been impacted by Down syndrome, so it was an amazing opportunity for Mustangers in our Canonsburg office to help raise awareness as a show of support for one of their own. And the support extended beyond Canonsburg. Mustangers from other offices traveled from afar to participate, and our Heart of Mustang organization also sponsored the event and provided team T-shirts. It's a way to support Gary and Christina here at home, as well as the greater community of those affected by Down syndrome.”

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder typically associated with physical growth delays, a particular set of facial characteristics and a severe degree of intellectual disability.

Phillips admitted he and his wife had to get through the initial shock of heir daughter's diagnosis, but are now focused on her care.

“We believe she was sent to us for a reason, to help us grow as people,” he said. “She's a very, very happy baby. She imparts that to us and keeps us grounded. We understand the challenges we face and she'll face and we'll face in helping her grow and develop. It's something we'll do one day at a time.”

Luciana, named after Gary's mother Lucille who died in 2010, has been through quite a lot in her young life. She underwent heart surgery Sept. 16 for Atrioventricular septal defect.

But the family continues on. First, they know there's is much available to become educated about Down syndrome.

“Western Pennsylvania is a great place for a parent of family with a special needs child with the support that's available and Children's Hospital,” he said.

Plus, they have the joy that Luciana brings them and will continue to bring them.

“They're just so happy,” Phillips said of special needs children. “Their demeanor is always happy and smiling. For us, she's going to teach us as much as we teach her about life in general. We look forward to that, knowing there are going to be challenges. She wouldn't have been sent to us if we couldn't handle it. Early intervention is key. She's going to change us for the better. She's going to change the people around her for the better.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or

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