A forum is born
Instead of concentrating solely on the emotional aspects of having a child with a disability, D.A.D.S. is more issue-oriented, focusing on things like financial, educational and legislative issues and sports for children with Down syndrome.
That's not to say the members don't share their feelings, but that tends to happen more on a one-to-one basis outside the public forum.
For Mr. Sell, joining D.A.D.S. at that initial meeting may well have saved his marriage. If the divorce rate is about 50 percent for all Americans, it soars to around 90 percent in families who have a child with special needs.
``I fear that had I not gone to that first meeting, and rather continued down the path I had been traveling, that my wife and I would have been included in the 90-percent figure,'' he said.
In starting D.A.D.S., Mr. Meares has ``found a way, whether he knows it or not, of helping guys who wouldn't normally talk things through and get through these things,'' Mr. Sell said. ``He found a way to do that by creating a forum, in an atmosphere where they feel comfortable doing it.''
Mr. Meares not only founded D.A.D.S., he's helped it to thrive. ``I don't think it would have sustained itself, or taken off as it had, without Joe's enthusiasm, dedication and commitment,'' Mr. Harding said. ``I don't think it would have happened.''
And while D.A.D.S. has helped countless others, it's also helped Mr. Meares.
If something happens with Peyton, if she's had a good day at school or said something funny, Mr. Meares said he can't wait to put it on the D.A.D.S. e-mail loop and share because it starts conversations, and he finds it so rewarding to see everyone else respond to it.
``I always say when I'm having a really good day, I get on the phone and call one of my friends from D.A.D.S.,'' Mr. Meares said. ``When I'm having a lousy day I call six.''
Since starting D.A.D.S. in 2002, the organization has garnered national attention, earning a community service award from the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in 2004.
In addition, Mr. Meares and other members of D.A.D.S. have conducted several workshops at the NDSS's national conference ``to encourage the formation of groups like ours and how and why it's important,'' he said.
As a result of Mr. Meares' inspiration, D.A.D.S. organizations have formed in Richmond, Va., Charlotte, N.C., Madison, Wis., Lexington, Ky., and Kansas City, Kan. In addition, he and other members of D.A.D.S. are helping five other areas establish D.A.D.S. groups.
As D.A.D.S. has grown, it has begun supporting a project known as Camp Hi Lite, a dedicated week-long camp in Martinsville, Ind., for children with Down syndrome. In 2003, D.A.D.S. organized a golf outing that raised $29,000, with $15,000 going to the camp, Mr. Meares said. A second golf outing this year netted the group $53,000. All those proceeds went to support local and national Down syndrome projects and D.A.D.S.
Mr. Meares' support of people with disabilities extends even to his tire dealership. After hearing a speech by the founder of Best Buddies, urging employers to give a chance to those with disabilities, he took the charge to heart.
In 2002, Mr. Meares hired John Stepp, a man in his early 30s who had suffered brain damage as a toddler, to work 20 hours a week in his shop.
Originally, Mr. Meares had two jobs in mind for Mr. Stepp-to run the reciprocating saw and recycle polyurethane, and to do janitorial jobs.
But Mr. Stepp wanted more and ``challenged us,'' Mr. Meares said. Today, he also mounts all the small tires for the industrial tire dealership and even some of the low profile skid-steer tires.
``He's a tire man,'' Mr. Meares said. ``If there's a tire to mount, that's what he wants to do.''
Mr. Meares' work with the national Down syndrome organization as well as his own research also has changed how he looks at the disorder. He's no longer as focused on the short term and the things Peyton will go through at each year of her life.
``Now I see the unlimited possibilities,'' he said. ``I want for Peyton exactly what I want for my other children-to go to school, get an education, get a job, live independently and be happy.''
And after seeing others with Down syndrome grow up to lead productive, independent lives, ``I know it's possible,'' he said.