RUN4HOPE: Down Syndrome Research Foundation

Over $14.9 million has been raised for charitable causes by runners through our RUN4HOPE program. Learn more and become a charity runner here.


Melissa Stander is no stranger to challenges. Born with Down syndrome, she would face – and overcome – two major health scares before she even entered school.

“At eight months old, she needed open heart surgery,” recalls Melissa’s dad, Freddy. “And then we found out she had leukaemia, so she went through cancer. It was a scary time in her life, but she’s a true trooper that has done very well with all the battles that she’s faced and has been a very big inspiration to this family.”

Patti, Melissa’s mother, agrees. “She’s battled so many different health challenges, and has inspired and touched many people’s lives. She’s a beautiful, strong woman, and has just made me so proud.”

Melissa wasn’t about to let little things like Down syndrome and cancer stop her from achieving her dreams. With her parents’ support, she conquered each obstacle that life put in front of her, and graduated high school three years ago. The question then was: what next?

“When Melissa graduated from high school,” says Patti, “we were a little bit perplexed on what the next steps would be in working with her towards a career path. The Down Syndrome Research Foundation was something I’d always known about as she was growing up, but we never took advantage of until she graduated high school.”

Melissa enrolled in DSRF’s programs for young adults with Down syndrome, which have helped her gain the skills she will need as she pursues her goal of a job working with children. “DSRF has really helped her with her reading and money math skills,” says Patti. “I’ve noticed that it has really expanded her vocabulary and her abilities in social skills to help towards those goals. Having a strong community like DSRF has helped her grow and thrive, and we’re very thankful to have them as part of our lives.”

Now 22 years old, Melissa is continuing her education while volunteering as a peer mentor for kids at Monty Middle School – an activity that ties perfectly into her plans for the future. “I want to get a job with kids one day,” she says confidently.

With all that she has already achieved in her young life, there’s little doubt that Melissa will reach whatever goal she sets for herself.

“Melissa’s accomplishments have been great,” says Freddy. “They have been far more than what I as a parent even expected.”

For Melissa, it all boils down to one simple, profound philosophy – the power of which her life amply demonstrates. “Never give up your dreams.”

As you achieve your dream of competing in the BMO Vancouver Marathon, you can make dreams come true for individuals with Down syndrome like Melissa, by participating in the RUN4HOPE on behalf of the Down Syndrome Research Foundation.

As a DSRF Charity Runner, participants commit to raising a minimum of $100 dollars for the Down Syndrome Research Foundation. DSRF directly supports our runners to help make your fundraising a success. Specifically, DSRF will provide:

  • a customized fundraising web page
  • regular e-mails from DSRF with fundraising tips and encouragement
  • a DSRF “hand in hand” pin
  • the satisfaction of helping young people with Down syndrome reach their full potential, and the greatest cheering section you can imagine during the race

Please join us, and run hand in hand with Melissa, and all those on the lifetime journey of Down syndrome.

About Down Syndrome Research Foundation

When Edison was born, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome: a genetic condition caused by an extra 21st chromosome, characterized by health problems, developmental delays and learning disabilities. At the Down Syndrome Research Foundation, Edison and his family have found the support they needed to unleash his full potential. Now 7-years-old, Edison talks like a chatterbox, plays piano and soccer, and reads at a Grade 1 level.

Every day, stories like Edison’s are written. DSRF’s educational programming maximizes the tremendous potential of individuals with Down syndrome, building core skills needed for independence: speech and language, reading and communication, and social and emotional development. As students grow in these areas, they thrive in life, work and relationships.

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RUN4HOPE is the charity program for the BMO Vancouver Marathon, with goals to raise funds for social impact and community good, plus foster a spirit of community celebration. The program provides value to charities, and charitable options for participants, enabling runners to fundraise and/or donate to charities. Run and give! The event’s RUN4HOPE program has helped runners raise more than $14.9 million for charity and community good.