'Like everybody else': C-M sophomore shares message of inclusion

Pictured: Quintin presenting at a school.
Posted On: Monday, March 27, 2023

(This article was written and released by Karen Mansfield of the Observer-Reporter. Please click here for the original article.)

Seventeen-year-old Quintin Weismantle is a people person.

“He loves being around people,” said his father, Wayne Weismantle, of North Strabane Township. “The happier he makes people, the happier he is.”

And Quintin’s enthusiasm for a lot of things – music and Michael Jackson, weight lifting, pull-ups and push-ups, drinking coffee with his parents on weekends (he takes his with cream), spending time with his brother, Ethan, and sister, Ava, and friends, school, and roller-coasters – is infectious.

Quintin, a sophomore at Canon-McMillan High School, was born with Down syndrome. But he wants people to know that children and adults with disabilities are like everyone else.

“He says all the time, ‘I don’t have a disability, I have a different ability. Just because I look different, or talk different, doesn’t mean I’m not the same as you,’” said Wayne.

So when Mikayla’s Voice, a nonprofit organization that inspires kids of all abilities to share the message of inclusion, announced it was seeking co-presenters to share their stories of living with a disability at inclusion assemblies at schools in Southwestern Pennsylvania during the 2022-23 school year, Becky Lieb, Canon-McMillan School District Director of Special Education, immediately thought of Quintin.

Lieb had coordinated a Mikayla’s Voice inclusion assembly at Borland Manor Elementary School in 2021, and the elementary school participated in the nonprofit’s art program, The Wheels of Friendship, that incorporates wheelchair painting to create individual canvases that become interchangeable mosaics.

Quintin is one of 11 Mikayla’s Voice student co-presenters who travel to schools during the academic year, enlightening and educating students about the importance of inclusion of people of all abilities.

“Quintin just radiates happiness. He’s so much fun to be around,” said Rita Cheskiewicz, Executive Director of Mikayla’s Voice. “He’s a natural public speaker who loves the microphone and doesn’t get intimidated talking in front of a crowd.”

Since he started his position in December, Quintin has visited elementary and middle schools in Westmoreland and Clarion counties, and was a speaker at the Pennsylvania Department of Education Conference in Hershey earlier this month, where thousands of educators heard his story.

“There is happiness in my heart (at the assemblies),” said Quintin. “I talk about Mikayla’s story and I talk about my story.”

During the assemblies, Quintin – in his upbeat, engaging way – shares pictures of himself and talks to students about living with Down syndrome.

Quintin’s co-presenter reads “High Fives and a Big Heart,” a book about a boy with Down syndrome. “High Fives” is one of four books in the Mikayla’s Voice library collection written by kids for other kids about having a friend with a disability.

It’s all about promoting inclusion, kindness and friendship.

Wayne said children at the assemblies have embraced Quintin and his message.

“Kids really love him at the schools he goes to. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go at the first school, but he did very well; the kids asked questions and he answered them. They were giving him high-fives and knuckle-bumps,” said Wayne. “He’s into a lot of things, so he has something in common with most of the kids. When I was growing up, we didn’t have inclusion. When you saw a disabled person, you didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I think Quintin is reaching these children. He’s saying, ‘It’s OK to be my friend.’”

Cheskiewicz said the co-presenters, who get a salary for appearances, play an important part in helping children who might be unsure about what to say or how to act around a person with disabilities realize that they do have things in common and just want to be accepted for who they are.

Mikayla’s Voice’s logo is a ladybug with seven black dots and one that is yellow, signifying that every person has something that makes him or her unique.

“We all have a yellow spot. Some are just more evident than others,” said Cheskiewicz.

Mikayla’s Voice was founded by Mikayla Resh’s mom, Kimberly Resh. Mikayla was born with significant developmental disabilities. She never spoke, but others stepped up to be her voice for inclusion.

In 2006, Mikayla’s third-grade classmates helped write a book, “Our Friend Mikayla,” which was distributed to every Pennsylvania elementary school in 2012.

Until Mikayla passed away in 2019 at the age of 24, she and her mother traveled to various schools for student assemblies – including the Washington School District in 2017 – where they discussed the importance of inclusion in schools and society for people with disabilities.

To date, Mikayla’s Voice has presented its message of inclusion to more than 65,000 students.

For Quintin’s parents, Wayne and Jennifer, Mikayla’s Voice has been “a blessing.”

“I think because when we’re looking at his interests in high school, what he likes to do, a career path, this really seemed to kind of fall right into his interests. He enjoys people, he likes to present, he likes the microphone. It’s been so helpful to us to have a pathway for him that he enjoys, and it brings him happiness. He says that all the time,” said Jennifer. “To connect people and to include, and to show people that even though he does have disability, that he wants to be like everybody else, he gets that chance. For us and for him, it’s kind of enlightening that they came to us to ask us would he be a part of it, and, boy, it’s just graced our lives because he’s now doing what he wants to do.”

The Weismantles have always encouraged Quintin to participate in a wide range of activities, and he has enthusiastically embraced many of the same sports and events that Ethan, 18, and Ava, 13, did.

Over the years, he has taken karate lessons, played baseball (he participated in the Champions League Game during the 2022 PONY League World Series), and enjoys golf and swimming. On Saturday, he participated in a Special Olympics swimming competition at Washington & Jefferson College.

In a recent co-presenters’ video that features Quintin and other presenters, Quintin shared that he wants to be an actor, singer, or personal trainer when he grows up.

What does Quintin want kids to know about having a disability?

“I’m just like everybody else,” he said with a huge smile. “That’s part of who I am. That’s my life.”

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