Karrie's Story

It’s not often a 17-year-old gets the honor of having a day named after him or her, but for Karrie Brown, that’s just one of many accomplishments she can add to her list of triumphs.

In 2014, February 24 was officially declared “Karrie Brown Day” in Collinsville, IL, and the mayor himself made the declaration with planned events for a commemoration celebration.

Karrie, born with Down syndrome, faced challenges in forming relationships and performing activities many take for granted every day. Her mother, Sue, brought her to YMCA of Southwest Illinois, a United Way supported agency, 11 years ago when they first moved to Collinsville. That seemingly simple decision was one that changed everything for Karrie.

When they first moved to the area, Sue was in need of extra help caring for her child as a single mom working full-time. Sue said she tried to find a spot for Karrie in several facilities, but they turned her down. She was overwhelmed with relief when she came to the Y and was welcomed with open arms.

“The Y has actually become our family over the years. They have been there for us through a lot of really tough times and a lot of really great times,” Sue said. “The Y is so much more than just a gym to us…it’s a way of life and it’s a family.”

The Y has provided before and after school care and developmental assistance for Karrie, and over the last decade, they have watched her blossom into a sociable, ambitious young woman.

“Karrie is so full of life and is just a joy to be around,” said Sarah Williams, executive director, YMCA of Southwest Illinois – Collinsville, Maryville, Troy branch. “She has grown so much here, and to see how far she’s come makes us so proud of everything she’s accomplished.”

In fact, Karrie recently completed a photo shoot in California at the headquarters for the clothing store Wet Seal, where she is their lead model for plus size girls clothing.

“Everything she owns came from Wet Seal,” Williams said. “One day she posted a photo on Facebook about her love of Wet Seal clothes, and the store made her a proposition. If she could get 25,000 Facebook likes for the picture, they would fly her out to California for a photo shoot.”

The “like” count went well above 25,000 for Karrie, which won her the trip of a lifetime. But Karrie’s accomplishments don’t stop here. Karrie continues to excel in her social skills, serving as a volunteer for the Y for child care and as a counselor in training. She was also the recipient of the Y’s “Youth of the Year” award in 2013 and won a scholarship towards a college education.

United Way’s support of YMCA of Southwest Illinois helps provide quality childcare and developmental assistance allowing children of all abilities, like Karrie, to overcome any obstacles thrown their way. Thanks to the help Karrie received, she is now thriving and living the life of her dreams.

“YMCA focuses on inclusion,” Williams said. “We were able to help with her social, emotional and leadership growth. She’s never been seen as being different from anyone else here, because to us, she’s just Karrie Brown. And with funding from United Way, we are able to continue to help kids like Karrie reach their full potential.”

As far as what the future holds for Karrie, she and her mom continue traveling across the region to raise awareness for those with Down syndrome. Karrie’s next goal is to dance with Ellen DeGeneres on her show one day.

“With Karrie’s determination and strong character, she’ll probably have this goal met before we know it,” Williams said.

About YMCA of Southwest Illinois

YMCA of Southwest Illinois promotes youth development, healthy living and social responsibility through a variety of programs for people of all ages. YMCA has been a United Way funded agency since 1923.