SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KRON) – Inclusion and acceptance drive Larkin O’Leary’s mission.
“If we don’t presume competence, we’ll never know,” said O’Leary, one of KRON’s Remarkable Women nominees.
Three years ago, the Santa Rosa mother of two stepped away from 15 years as an educator in classrooms ranging from pre-school to the 7th grade, to focus on her two children – 18-month-old daughter Junebell and 6-year-old son James, who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“I couldn’t be there for my kids the way I wanted to. I was teaching class, and then the next day I was going to a surgery with my son, and then the next morning I would wake up in the hospital and then I would come back and teach my kids, and then I would go back, and you know, and so it was just — it was an impossible task,” O’Leary said.
Her own experiences inspired her to co-found the nonprofit Common Ground Society.
She serves as president of the organization in Sonoma County, focusing on educating and empowering her community to be more compassionate, accepting, and inclusive of people with disabilities.
“We want people to understand that people with disabilities are just that — people. Just people. You know, when I’m at home, my son is nothing — I don’t even see Down syndrome in him — I just see James,” O’Leary said.
Prior to the pandemic, she traveled from grade schools to universities, giving hundreds of speeches about her cause.
Now, that work continues virtually – spreading the same message.
“Be the one. And, that’s like our message that we’re out there and into the world. Normally, we choose a ‘be the one’ ambassador from the schools we go to, and what that means is to be the one who is caring. Be the one to be kind Be the one to be helpful. Be the one to stand up when you see something that isn’t, you know, right.”
It’s a simply unremarkable concept that makes O’Leary’s passionate work truly remarkable.