Be Strong Rock On – documentary

This documentary is about my son Andrew Banar. He is 24 years old and was born with Down Syndrome and has been challenged with many of the associated health issues. With the help of our family Andrew has started his own t-shirt company called Group Hug Apparel and each item has one of Andrew’s cool designs on them. We wanted to share it with the world :)

Karen Pickle (Andrew’s mom)

Katie Hawkins & Rachel Knapp students from the University of Windsor made a documentary about Andrew Banar and Group Hug Apparel. Well done ladies! Thank you.

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Mom Of The Month and a Birthday.

I woke this morning at 7 am to Andrew making me coffee and a couple of text messages from loved ones and an e mail from Moma Deb.

Text messages
…Good morning Karen, I hope you have a Happy Birthday today!!
…GM “Welcome to the Club”…. hmmmm Club, anyway moving on…..
…Happy Happy Special birthday! Make it a great day. See you tomorrow.

How lucky am I. And back to…… I awoke to Andrew making me coffee and giving me a birthday card. The idea of Andrew remembering my birthday was that much more special and meaningful to me. It’s not like i reminded him every day like he does for his birthday lol
We sat out side, drank coffee (Andrew orange juice) and talked…. but the thing that Andrew was most excited about (and so was I) was the birthday card he picked out for me.

(front cover) “Mom, just a little reminder……(inside) …. that you’re my HERO. Happy Birthday”. Mom, I love you very much! Love Andrew.

The best part he said was the fridge magnet that was inside of the card. It was of “Wonder Woman” with the saying “Mom’s got it under control!” He said that i need to put it on the fridge to see it every day……and so it is there to remind me of the wonderful son i have and shhhhhh the truth is that Andrew is my HERO and is the reason i am the woman i am today.

So with that being said, I have been crying since i woke up this morning and continued too as i read an e-mail and this blog that was written by a beautiful lady “Mama Deb”.

….Hi Lovely Lady!

Congrats on being my August Mom of the Month! I will profile you each month and I hope you enjoy our interview!

Mama Deb

Before you continue to read Moma Deb’s blog, everyone who knows me or follows Group Hug Apparel, knows that i constantly talk about Andrew and everything that he does… the tables got turned when I was approached to speak about myself… and you would not believe how difficult that can be. I am so very honoured to share a side of myself with all of you today.

August Mom of the Month!

When you speak with Karen, she immediately radiates that she loves life and sees things a little differently than most people. One of her favourite sayings and quite frankly her daily mantra is “Be blessed for what you have as it can change in a moment”. She knows this all too well and you will see why from our interview. Raising her amazing son Andrew has been a joy.

Please read more here:
August – Mom Of The Month – Karen Pickle

Thank You so much for being part of my 50th today even though Andrew asked me this morning with a straight face. “Mom, your 32 right” how could i not say yes that handsome face. ……. OH, i get it now lol Welcome to the CLUB.

Karen Pickle ~ Andrew’s mom

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The Visit

The words may not be many, the visit may not be long,
His warmth is from his heart, way deep down inside.
Its honest and unconditional without any hesitation.
He wants to help others and provide some comfort when their not feeling well
or just hold your hand.
This may not be much but he loves doing it and always will.
This is who Andrew is and I love him for all he has to offer.

Andrew met a couple of little ones at London’s Children’s Hospital this weekend.
The first little man was handsome Lukas Reinhart, who was just on his way home and his momma was so thrilled to finally meet Andrew and to take some pictures of these two. Lukas received a little shirt and a letter from Andrew several months ago while he was sick in the hospital. Lukas momma, made me cry with the beautiful words she shared about Andrew. “My children met a true Hero today”. Andrew does not spin webs, or leap tall buildings. He does not rescue people from burning homes or stop trains from crashing or leaving the tracks. But what i have noticed is that he provides a small bit of comfort and love towards others and is so happy in doing this. Lukas, we are so happy that you are headed home and that we had the chance to meet you.

The second little man that Andrew met was adorable Kevin Fast. Kevin’s momma heard that Andrew was going to be in London and asked if we could stop by to meet her baby Kevin. Andrew was thrilled to present Kevin with a stuffed toy “bigger than he is” and to say a prayer for him while he sat by his bedside. The quiet, caring young man that i saw in my son today, made me so proud to be his mother. There is a gentle soul that wants to sooth and provide a comfort for so many. We pray that Kevin will be going home soon to be with his family.

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No one Fights alone!

Andrew, you are my Hero.

You fight every step of the way and always take chances.
You are always willing to learn and try new things.
You my son, have showed me that everyone has the ability to achieve.
You have taught me patience and understanding in times when you fully do not understand yourself.
You taught me that things need to be modified and adjusted so you do understand them better. And to help make your ideas more simplified so you enjoy experiencing it even in the simplest way.
You taught me from the day you were born that I will need to have an open mind and heart, not only with who you are but the man you will become, and to do this unconditionally.
You taught me how to give and how to accept.
Andrew, my son, you are my Hero, my daily inspiration. I Love You!

~ mom ~

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Andrew helping young adults with Down syndrome achieve a higher education

Andrew is doing something really awesome with his Group Hug Apparel. He is helping individuals who have Down syndrome achieve a higher education by being part of Rubys Rainbow on line auction. Andrew fulfilled his dream of attending college in 2014, now he is helping others fulfill theirs. Head over to and see all of the wonderful items up for bid including some of Andrews wonderful designs.

Ruby’s Rainbow was inspired by their own lil’ lady, Ruby. At her birth, they discovered that she had an extra special chromosome. Their expectations for her did not change and they vowed as a family to give her all of the opportunities they could to learn, grow, flourish and become an important contributor to society and to the community.

Life and learning doesn’t stop after high school and they want to help these amazing individuals with Down syndrome reach their highest potential.

The goal at Ruby’s Rainbow is to grant scholarships to adults with Down syndrome seeking post secondary education, enrichment or vocational classes who feel that higher education is the right choice for them.

It is their mission to create awareness of the capabilities of these amazing individuals and help them achieve their dreams of higher education. They plan to keep track of the recipients and they hope that this will inspire others to go for their dreams! The auctions runs from now June 27th to July 11th. Now go and bid on some really awesome items and help fulfill some dreams. Ruby’s Rockin Boutique.

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Be Strong Rock On Dinner

What is a Friend ~ A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause, a comrade. ” To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world”. To all of you, you mean everything!

As many of you know, Andrew was one of the winners of this year’s Canadian Down Syndrome
Hero Award. We are so proud of him and what he’s accomplished, and his amazing positive
attitude and spirit. Through Group Hug Apparel, Andrew also helps other children through
our “Be Strong Rock On” Helping Sick Kids One Shirt At Campaign.
On June 19th, we honoured Andrew at a pasta fundraiser held at Colasanti Tropical Gardens with proceeds going towards his “Helping Sick Kids One Shirt At A Time Campaign” and a NEW Cardinal Carter Bursary honouring Andrew.
I am so incredibly thankful to our community and all of the people who have embraced Andrew with open arms. All of the people who have made Andrew part of their lives, and their family’s lives, and all those who support him and his amazing journey through life.
Together we raised $5110.92 and I know that we could not have done it without the LOVE & SUPPORT from our amazing community and hard working committee members.
Thank you so very much!

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Introducing “Julia” a nail polish like no other

We are so very proud to announce  “Julia”
a nail polish that was created by Andrew and inspired by his girlfriend Julia.

Andrew is always searching for that perfect shade of polish and when he could not find it what else could he do. Well if you know Andrew….. that’s right, he created his own.

Together with Pam Heil owner of Girly Bits Cosmetics they mixed, poured and glittered themselves to come up with the perfect polish called “Julia”.

Pam said “I am extremely proud to introduce our collaboration… Julia. A bright bubble gum, hot neon pink shimmery polish with light microglitter, silver flakes and a smidge of holographic sparkle. Super girly!”

$3.00 from the sale of each bottle will go toward Andrew’s Helping Sick Kids One T-Shirt At A Time Campaign.
Thank you Pam for helping Andrew with this really special project. We are so excited to announce this to the world today.

Check out some behind the scenes pictures of Pam and Andrew creating the perfect polish. The making of “Julia”.  ALSO – video from behind the scenes.

If you are local to Kingsville, Ontario Canada there is a celebration dinner being planned in Andrew’s honour for Friday, June 19th starting at 5pm at Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens. Tickets can be purchased at the door tonight.


“Julia” is available for pre-order starting NOW!

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Pasta Dinner/Fundraiser Honouring Andrew – Canadian Down Syndrome Hero

Pasta Dinner/Fundraiser Honouring Andrew Banar ~ Canadian Down syndrome Hero 2015

Friday June 19th at Colasanti Tropical Gardens 1550 Rd 3 E. Kingsville ON
Tickets $20 each (cash only)

All proceeds go toward Andrew’s  ongoing “Helping Sick Kids One Shirt At A Time” campaign and a new Cardinal Carter bursary honouring Andrew.

Doors open at 5 pm – Buffet Dinner served 5:30 – 7:30 – Speeches, raffle prizes & entertainment to follow – cash bar

Tickets can be purchased on line and at the following locations:
At the door for tonights event only.

For more information:
(Tara) 519-996-8187 or
(Karen) 519-819-5250

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Quilts made with love

If you remember that last month we put a request out to have one lap quilt made for Andrew’s “Be The Reason Someone Smiles Day” birthday wish so he could give it to someone who was going through treatment for their illness. Well we received not just one but 3 beautiful quilts from a couple of ladies who want to remain nameless but not faceless. They are ladies that love helping others. Thank you so much for your kindness and love and we cannot wait to give these beautiful quilts a new home. – btw i am so happy to announce that more are on there way from other beautiful members of our community. Thank you for your love!

Andrew Banar’s – Group Hug Apparel To learn more about Andrew please go & LIKE his Group Hug Apparel page at :

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I was chosen to be a Hero – A Canadian Down Syndrome Hero

With help from my mom we wrote this together ~ Andrew Banar

When I heard i was chosen as a Canadian Down syndrome Hero I was very happy about this. It makes me feel good to be recognized and appreciated for who I am and what I am doing with my life. I really like making a differences and I like helping others. It’s an important part of my life to help people. It makes them feel happy and this makes me feel good that i am doing something special for others and putting smiles on there faces.

“Group Hug Apparel” is my own business that my mom helps me with. I sell my own
t-shirts that say “Be Strong Rock On” along with my own drawings on them. My mom helps me to sell them on line and at events. I even sell them when my mom and I are guest speakers and I get to share my story about my life. People enjoy hearing me speak about my life and what i am doing. When i speak, i let everyone know that i help sick children from my t-shirt sales. I tell them that It’s important to help others because you never know when you may need help. My mom says that giving my shirts to children who are sick and in the hospital helps them feel good. My mom says that i am a super Hero when I give my shirts to wear. I want them to feel safe and brave during their hospital stay or if they are receiving treatments by wearing one of my “Be Strong Rock On” shirts. This really makes me feel good by help them and be a friend.
If you have goals or an idea and cannot figure them out, you should ask for help to make them happen. I had a goal to attend college one day and I wanted to raise the money so I could go. This is how my Group Hug Apparel business started. My mom helped me and worked with me so I could do some of the things in my business by myself. My mom can “see my abilities” every day and she knows that if I am going to work hard than she is going to work hard to help me. I think that others see my abilities as well.
Dianne Sedore-McCoy nominated me to be a Down syndrome Hero and I have never met her. It is so nice to have people notice what you can do to make a difference and maybe inspire someone else to do good things. Thank you so much Dianne. I hope to meet you one day.

I graduated from St. Clair College in June 2014 from the Life Skills Program. It was a great experience for me.
Thank you so much for encouraging me and believing in my abilities.
Andrew Banar

This is what Dianne Sedore-McCoy wrote:  “He is a hero, not because he has Down syndrome and because of his business, but because he goes above and beyond to make the world better for those who are facing challenges,” wrote Dianne Sedore-McCoy, who nominated Andrew. Sedore-McCoy is the grandparent of a child with Down syndrome. “With role models like Andrew, I am confident that my granddaughter will have a place in this world and be accepted for who she is.”

Dianne Sedore-McCoy

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Helping Sick Kids Bowl A Thon

On April 11th, 2015 Group Hug Apparel will be hosting Andrew Banar’s Helping Sick Kids Bowl a Thon with proceeds benefiting W. E. Care For Kids Foundation. The event will take place at Super Bowl Lanes 10000 Tecumseh Rd. E Windsor ON from 1 – 4 pm. Andrew is doing this as part of his Annual Birthday Wish called “Be The Reason Someone Smiles Day” with Random Acts Of Kindness for others.

A minimum of $30 per person in pledges, or donations is required to participate. This includes bowling, shoe rental, 1 hot dog, 1 pop and 1 raffle ticket. All proceeds will benefit W.E. Care for Kids!

To register your team, please contact Karen Pickle (519) 819-5250. Pledge forms available for download, by clicking the provided link!  Bowling Pledge Form


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Tan Lines And The Salon – Fundraiser

Less than two months after hearing her son, 8 year old Shane’s cancer had returned, Jennifer Jensen was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

On Thursday April 2nd from 10 am to 6 pm
Employees from Tan Lines and The Salon will be participating in Group Hug Apparel’s 2nd Annual “Be The Reason Someone Smiles Day” designer, Andrew Banar’s birthday wish of doing Random Acts of Kindness for others.

Andrew Banar born with Down syndrome and many health related issues that accompany Down syndrome will be 24 on April 5th and wants nothing more for his birthday than for others to do something kind for someone else that day or the week before or why not even the week after. Andrew and his family know how important its is to help others as they have seen first hand how families struggle when a medical issue arises. Andrew always says “it’s important to help others” so on April 2nd, just before Andrew’s birthday employees from Tan Lines and The Salon will be busy all day donating their time and providing manicures, pedicures & hair cuts with proceeds helping Jennifer Jensen and her son Shane.
Tan Lines – The Salon manager Samantha George wanted to get involved with Andrew’s “Be The Reason Someone Smiles Day” and approached Andrew’s mom, Karen Pickle about different ideas. Together they came up with the idea of helping Jennifer and her son Shane. “Andrew is always doing great things within our community and I just knew that we should help make his birthday wish come true”, said Samantha. What a better way to get involved and help someone else as well.

Cash only services for that day only with hair cuts and styles, kids cuts, make up, manicures & pedicures, blow outs, up styles along with raffles prizes that will include a grand prize of a full colour service make over.
If you are interested in participating in Andrew’s “Be The Reason Someone Smiles Day” call to book your appointment 519-733-1112 & stop by Tan Lines – The Salon at 149 Lansdowne Ave in Kingsville ON N9Y 1S4 for a day of pampering with proceeds benefiting Jennifer and her son Shane. If you cannot make it that day but want to donate, please feel free to contact Karen Pickle (Andrew’s mom) to discuss further. 519-819-5250

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W.E. Care Donor Spotlight

We are so very honoured that Andrew and his Group Hug Apparel business was chosen to be the W.E. Care Donor Spotlight for the month of March from W.E. Care For Kids Foundation. What a wonderful month to be recognized since March 21st we will be celebrating World Down Syndrome Day. Thank you so much for loving Andrew and what he does for others.
This momma is so very proud of all Andrew has accomplished. #seetheabilities #WDSD2015 #helpingothers #BeTheReasonSomeoneSmilesDay #cdss #donorspotlight #RockYourSocksWDSD2015

Group Hug Apparel, founded by Andrew Banar, has been supporting W.E. Care for Kids for several years, and has raised over $3,000 for the Foundation. Andrew was born with Down Syndrome and has been challenged with many of the associated health issues. Due to Andrew’s health, he and his family learnt first hand the importance of supporting local health programs. Thank You to Andrew Banar and Group Hug Apparel for your support and helping us provide great paediatric health care, right here – at home!

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Andrew’s 3rd Blog Post

Monday – Family Day
We sold shirts at Colasanti’s for Calvin. He is sick in the hospital. I am praying for Calvin to get better soon.

I worked at my job. I helped my boss Ashley with making flyers. They go in bags for customers. I like helping Ashley. Colasantis has good chicken.

My mom and I mailed shirts to sick kids today. I wrote letters to them so they feel better.

I visit at the seniors home. I like doing that with my mom. Its nice to visit with them.

My mom and I helped make ribbons with my friends. They are blue and yellow. I am selling Ribbons for World Down Syndrome Day. This is March 21st. I worked hard.

It’s not cool to be a bully. Give hugs and love. I shared my picture with everyone.

I hope you like my blog.

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Andrew’s 2nd Blog Post

Andrew’s Blog:


We went to the mall to sell My shirts. I helped We Care For Kids from my sales. We met Olaf and lots of nice people.

We Went to london for my Dr Appointment. They checked my heart with The Echo Machine. I saw my heart moving on the screen. It was cool. I will go back in A year. It is Congenital Heart Defect Month. Be good to your heart.

Monday night
We Went to the cooking class at Zehrs With my friends.
We made chicken Cordon Bleu, garden salad with french dressing, tomato mozzarella Bread. I love Hanging out with my friends.

I work At Colasanti’s I like my job
I help in Arcade And mini golf course. I also help in the store after Lunch.
My grandma picked me up at work today.

Tuesday night
I had drum lessons with Dave. It is always fun. I played a song called uptown funk by Bruno Mars. I nailed it.
I had dinner with my cousin after my lessons. We went to Boston pizza. Chicken wings and no pizza.

This was a fun day for me. I did not work. I went to St. Clair College with my mom. We spoke to students and had lunch. I gave out Valentine Hearts and they gave me a big card. I like talking to students about my life. They liked it to.

I hope you like my blog.

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Congenital Heart Defect Month

I woke up this morning with one of those nagging worries that I could not put my finger on. My heart and mind was racing and I just could not figure out why when everyone else is sleeping I woke up in the we hours unsure of what my body was going through. I quietly got up, made a coffee and sat in my big comfy chair and reflected on the way I was feeling. I decided to look a yesterdays pictures that I took, to pivot and change the way I was feeling and then it struck me even harder. Monday morning is Andrew’s heart check up at the London Health Science Centre.
Seeing this picture of Andrew holding the miniature heart on a stick over his own heart for Congenital Heart Defect month, I began to cry. I am a strong momma bear, but in this moment the worries came flooding in along with all of the what if’s? What if this is the year his Doctor says,” his heart is functioning less than his already 64%”. What if he say’s, “Andrew’s heart is larger than last year? What if this is the year that we will be facing “again”. The “again” that we have been suppressing in that area of our minds that nobody ever wants to have surface, open Heart surgery again.
In that moment, which seemed to last for a long time, I looked up towards the ceiling, knowing I was seeing past the drywalled ceiling, past the shingles and insulation, past the coldness of the winter that has blanketed our home and into heaven where my grandmother would be looking down at me, wagging her crooked finger and saying lovingly to me “Karrie (she always called me Karrie) sometimes a good cry is all we need to keep us stronger”. Thank you for being with me this morning Grandma and for reminding me that I am blessed to have a son like Andrew who will keep me strong and focussed even if in the we hours of the morning I sit quietly having a good cry. I know things will be Ok and he will have a good check up. I just hate the what ifs.

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