When you imagine the typical American teen, you possibly picture them to be athletic, participating in school activities, working a part time job to make their own money, active in their community, looking forward to college, and perhaps even a little girl-crazy.
19-year-old Seth Falke of Columbia Crossroads is all of that and so much more. He graduated from Athens Area High School in 2020. While in high school, Seth played offense on the Athens Wildcats soccer team and was homecoming king his senior year. He currently works part time at Beeman’s Restaurant in Athens, plays drums, is active in his church community, loves Selena Gomez, and plans to attend Houghton College in the fall.
The one thing that hasn’t been mentioned about Seth yet is that he has Down syndrome. Seth is living proof that a diagnosis is not how one’s ability should be defined.
Seth is the youngest of four siblings. His mom, Amy Falke, said she cried for two days after he was born because she didn’t know what to expect. “Going into having a baby, I thought ‘I’ve got this’ because this is my fourth one. When I found out he had Down syndrome, I thought ‘I have no idea how to do this.’ I was grieving the dreams I didn’t know I had.” But that didn’t stop Amy and her husband, Jeff, from giving Seth the same opportunities as their older children. When asked if she raised him any differently than her other children, Amy said, “I’m sure I did but did not intend to. His brothers and sister treated him the same. He had more help by the way of OT help and speech therapy help, but expectations were about the same.”
Amy describes Seth as “a fantastic young man; everyone enjoys spending time with him! My expectations of being able to raise him were blown out of the water and I realized he’s not as complicated as I thought he would be. He’s very loving and is loved, he knows he is loved by God; he’s just a fun, remarkable young man. He loves music, dancing and no dream is too big. He wants to coach the Eagles and be a manager for Selena Gomez.”
Amy was asked if she’s been happy with the services Seth has received throughout his life. She said, “Yes, very happy. Seth has had speech, OT and PT since before preschool, 1:1 aides during school, help from teacher’s assistants, job coaches with Serve to help in doing his job and peers that have stepped up and helped with whatever was needed. I’ve been very happy with the care he’s received everywhere we have lived in: Australia, Canada and here.” When asked if there were other services/supports she wished he had received she replied, “No, everyone was thoughtful and thought of things before I did.”
The idea of pushing a child, any child, regardless of ability, to leave the nest is one that gives many parents a lot of worry and anxiety. The fear of how their child might handle adversity or those who aren’t accepting of others’ differences can cause hesitation to encourage their child to pursue new interests or hobbies. The advice Amy would give to other parents/caregivers that are afraid to let their child go out for sports or become employed is, “You’ll be amazed at how many kind people are out there. If your child knows how to treat others with respect and be kind, there are people willing to be kind back and include them. There are a lot more kind people than not in the world.”
If Amy could go back and change anything, would she? “No. Everything just becomes part of the story.”
When you interact with Seth, he is one of the friendliest, most energetic and well-mannered young men you will ever meet. He is kind, polite, and respectful. He describes his interests to be “anything that is fun to me.” He likes when he gets to work, Selena Gomez, Philadelphia Eagles football, hanging out with his sister, going out on the motorcycle and riding with his dad, and cheering on sports teams (especially the Athens Wildcats). When asked if he had any advice to give another person with a disability looking to go out for sports or become employed, Seth said, “Going out for sports is fun. Get a job and make money because it is challenging but fun. Just keep going and do not give up. Be prepared and be on time.”
While in high school, he participated in Serve Inc.’s SWAT (Serve’s Work Academics and Transition) Program. While there he worked at different community job sites and learned important work skills that would benefit him in the future. He also received a Paid Work Experience sponsored by the PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. With assistance from job coaches at Serve, Inc. Seth gained part time employment at Beeman’s Restaurant doing food preparation and is now sponsored through the Bradford County Office of MH/ID to receive supported employment services. He enjoys his job and it is very apparent that his co-workers enjoy having Seth as part of their team. When asked what he would tell people about Serve, he said, “They helped me find places to work. I like the people at Serve. Serve always helped me and encouraged me, they are great.”
Though Seth has achieved so many great things and has had an amazing amount of encouragement from his family, friends and peers, there still have been some barriers he has had to face. Some of those barriers, Seth explains, include, “some people treating me badly, getting a driver’s license and dealing with abstract questions.”
His advice for employers hiring people with disabilities is, “Have a schedule for them. They might surprise you. I’d tell them about things that I’ve done.” Seth certainly proves the case for hiring someone with a disability.
Seth is surrounded by people who care for him and want him to succeed. He feels as though he has a good, strong support system between his family, church, work and friends, “They care about me and help me get the job done. Some of them are co-workers at Beemans, my family, friends, and coaches at Serve.”
Seth has big goals for his future. “Playing softball with my sister, work at Houghton College cleaning. My dream is to be a cheerleader for the Philadelphia Eagles and I have been studying to be an assistant coach.” His ultimate dream job? “I want to be a body guard for Selena Gomez. I love her.”
We celebrate Seth in his ability to pursue the things that make him happy and not allowing his disability to hold him back. Though it may be a part of who he is, it does not define him. Seth is a believer, athlete, musician, employee, son, brother, and friend. He’s defined by his successes, his kindness, and his love of life!