World Down syndrome Day ~ 2016

Well it’s that time of year again, for everyone to “Rock Your Socks” on March 21st, World Down syndrome Day! We will be celebrating 11 years! How fantastic is this!
Down Syndrome International encourages friends all over the world to choose their own activities and events to help raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome, and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in our lives and communities.

Well every year Andrew likes to host a world wide “Rock Your Socks” event.
You may be wondering what needs to be done to join all the fun. It’s very easy to participate, just stick your hand in your sock drawer and see what comes out. That’s right, pull out some bright and colourful socks or maybe some striped ones. Oh, we know that everyone has a basket of mismatched socks, these would really come in handy for this celebration. Or, have you’ve seen the latest craze yet, of all the tall funky colourful socks with different animal prints or cartoon characters on them? Andrew thinks those ones are really awesome! Probably by now you get the idea of what it takes to participate. So what ever you choose, please make a statement!

If your energetic, here are some suggestions of who may want to get involved:

Schools, businesses, friends, family, community groups, girl guides, girl scouts, boy scouts, politicians, police men and police women, nurses & doctors, city folk, town folk, county folk and the list goes on and on and on and on.

Show your colours and get involved with World Down syndrome day. It’s easy. Take pictures wearing your cool socks and share them here or hashtag #RockYourSockWDSD2016 and post on media pages for everyone to see your LOVE, SUPPORT & AWARENESS you are raising. Oh what a great day it will be! Include us in your tweets or instagram @grouphugapparel

When someone asks you , “Why are you wearing those crazy socks”!!!!” Maybe tell them you are wearing them for Andrew who is your friend born with Down syndrome OR that you are wearing them for someone you know with Down syndrome!
OR just wear them to help us raise awareness because it’s world Down syndrome Day on 3.21.16

Please invite your friends to join in the fun here Rock Your Socks On World Down syndrome Day 2016….. now go “Rock Your Socks!” For everyone who is local and in the Windsor/Essex County area, we will be hosting another “Rock Your Socks” 25th birthday celebration fundraiser on April 1st, 2016. Please stay tuned for updates.
~ Karen & Andrew (Group Hug Apparel)

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Looking back in 2015 and Looking forward to 2016

Happy New Year 2016

~ I want to inspire others to never give up ~

You have welcomed my son Andrew into your lives and we cannot thank you enough. My family is humbled by everyone’s support, encouragement and love that you have shown over these past 8 years. Can you  believe that, 8 years? Now that I have actually said it out loud, I am so excited and honoured to say that we are going into our 9th year of Andrew “Helping Sick Children One Shirt At A Time”. Let’s make this his best year yet.

Andrew absolutely loves supporting others from his GHA sales/fundraisers along with being able to help support himself and save for his future. This is important for him and it helps him feel like he is part of the community and contributes in his own way.

This past year has been amazing and with every new accomplishment Andrew has made, it makes me step back in awe and smile with tremendous pride for what he has achieved. I may repeat these words often, but i am one proud momma and I am determined to have Andrew participate in life and not just be on the outside looking in. And I am grateful to have each and everyone of you in our lives to enjoy these experiences with us.

Please feel free to take a look back at some of the things that Andrew did in 2015

~ January ~

Andrew started the year off by attending Transitions To Betterness (T2B) annual Kids Kicking Cancer celebration.
He handed out New Stuffed Toys to every child in this magnificent group. Please read more:  Kids Kicking Cancer

Andrew also met Luka, a young man who is caring, compassionate and selfless. Luka had a birthday wish that i think you would all like to read about here: Luka 

~ February ~

Andrew wrote his first blog post ever. Tell us what you think.

Also in February, we raised awareness for families that have loved ones with Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Enjoy our post here: CHD

~ March ~

We celebrated Andrew being named a Canadian Down syndrome Hero in March. Wow what an honour.

…… and this helped to bring us into Andrew selling beautiful ribbons, celebrating World Down syndrome day on March 21st and it’s only March.

~ April ~

This was a busy month preparing for Andrew’s annual “Be The Reason Someone Smiles Day” birthday wish of helping others instead of receiving gifts. Now that’s a mouth full.  Many people from around the world came together to celebrate and do random acts of kindness all for Andrew’s birthday wish. I don’t think we slept all month.

~ June ~

A fabulous group of volunteers and our wonderful friends, planned a fantastic event that brought over 200 friends and family together to honour Andrew in our community. The tears that flowed that day. Andrew was so excited to meet so many people. Please read more here: Honouring a Hero

……. and we hope that everyone can attend our next event planned for April 1st, 2016. This will not only celebrate WDSD but Andrew’s 25th Birthday. I think we are going to Rock Your Socks with this one. ~ Yes wear your wildest socks and one of Andrew’s tee’s that night, you won’t be disappointed.

If the previous was not exciting enough, well Andrew also teamed up with local artisan Pam Heal owner of Girly Bits Cosmetics to create a nail polish for his girl friend Julia, and guess what, it’s also called “Julia”

~ July ~

Andrew loves helping others so much that he visits little ones who are in the hospital to show friendship and deliver New Stuffed toys for comfort and love. If Andrew could do this everyday, he would. That’s how much love he has for anyone who is not feeling well. Please read  The visit here.

~ August ~

Mom’s celebrate birthdays right? Well who would have thought that I would be nominated as Augusts Mom on the Month.

~ September ~

Andrew wants children who are sick or receiving treatment to Be Strong & Rock On. He wants to help them feel better and here is one of the many special children that Andrew  has had the honour of meeting this past year. Please meet Mason. I wish we could share them all, so I had Andrew choose one for this post.

~ October ~

We have to mention that throughout the year, Andrew always meets wonderful people. Well Andrew had the opportunity to meet Matthew and become wonderful friends and hopefully long lasting ones forever. Read about meeting Matthew here.

~ December ~

Andrew delivers love for Christmas.

With all of the preparations happening for Christmas, like putting trees up, gift wrapping and baking etc.  Andrew made sure he had time to deliver over 400 New stuffed toys to children who were sick in the hospital just before Christmas as well as make a donation to W.E. Care For Kids for $1000.00

Many of you already know this: All through the year Andrew collects Brand New (unused and tag still on please) stuffed toys and teddy bears. He delivers these gifts not just at Christmas but year round to children who are sick or receiving treatments. So please feel free to contact us anytime if you want to donate a stuffed toy or two, or you can sponsor a “Bear In A Bag” gift on Andrew’s website if you are not in our area.

Thank you for looking back over the year with Andrew. Your love and support is greatly appreciated and we wish you all the best in 2016.

Love: Karen & Andrew

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Christmas Shipping & Hours

So we are never really closed for the holiday’s since you can shop on line, however our shipping elves will be taking a little bit of a break and slowing down to celebrate the season until the New Year. Well they did tell me that they will still be shipping on the days that the postal service is open but unfortunately they cannot guarantee if orders  will arrive before Christmas. Our elves may be out playing in the snow, visiting with friends and family or getting into the eggnog but they will be around to ship your order to you. If anyone is local, and would like to contact us to pick up some of Andrew’s designs, please feel free to give us a shout at 519-819-5250 and speak to Andrew’s mom Karen to make arrangements.

Please enjoy the Holiday Season with friends and family and have a wonderful & safe New Year. ~ Merry Christmas Everyone!

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“Bear In A Bag” gift giving

Andrew has added a little something extra special in the spirit of the holidays this year. It’s called “Bear In A Bag” gift giving. Andrew wanted to add an additional way to provide smiles to children who are sick in the hospital not only on Christmas Day but throughout the entire year. How wonderful is this.

For your $20 sponsorship of the “Bear In A Bag” gift,  a child will receive a brand new stuffed toy packed in one of Andrew’s “Be Strong Rock On” bright coloured cinch bags. All “Bear In A Bag” gifts will be personally delivered by Andrew (and his mom) to the Windsor Regional Hospital and London Health Science Centre for the child recipient with their Donor’s name placed on the tag.  What a wonderful gift that helps support Andrew’s “Helping Sick Children” campaign.
Help Andrew spread the holiday spirit throughout the entire year and be the reason for a child’s happiness right along side Andrew.
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There’s always a rainbow

I’m reminded that life is not always perfect and that the world is full of challenges, full of obstacles, full of struggles and of uncertainties. But what I am also reminded of is that if we are patient and surrounded by constant reminders of good and positive that we can manage these challenges and uncertainties more clearly.

I am grateful for love that surrounds me daily and teaches me to slow down and enjoy the moments. I am grateful for a 3 hour ride home with my my son Andrew, so we could discuss the challenges we over came and then to celebrate our accomplishments afterwards.
I am grateful for the families that we have met along the way and to share stories of struggles followed by triumphs.
I am grateful that Andrew can be a role model to so many but especially to me.
I’m reminded to help him achieve, help him over come and be the advocate a parent needs to be at any age.
I am constantly reminded of who I am and why I am here and I am so very grateful!

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Black Friday Deals Are Here ~ 25% off

~ 25% off your entire order (shipping not included) ~ Here is your code to use as many times as you want before the sale ends: BLACKFRIDAYSALE (caps not necessary)

Sale ends Midnight November 30th 2015.

Black Friday Week Sale has begun! Skip the lines (okay we don’t have lines on line) and shop Black Friday deals from anywhere, even your couch (in your tiger stripped pj’s drinking hot chocolate wink wink). We have lots of items for you to choose from and these deals will go quickly. So check out Andrew’s cool designs before the sale is over. Ho Ho Hold on and there is more.
With every purchase you are helping Andrew with his “Helping Sick Kids One Shirt At A Time” campaign. Andrew has donated over $35,000.00 to local children’s charities and families who have children either sick in the hospital or going through treatments for an illness. He gives them one of his cool Be Strong Rock On designs and a stuffed Teddy bear to help them smile.

Here is a quick link for your convenience GROUP HUG APPAREL BLACK FRIDAY SALE Thank you for your support and for helping Andrew share some love with others.
Now get shopping before the sale is over.

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Bowling with friends

I went bowling with all my friends. We had so much fun bowling and we had pizza and pop.

My new friend Matthew came down from London to bowl. It was nice seeing him. He bowled on my team.

Here is a picture of my friends.

Here is my mom holding Jason. He was to small to bowl.

This is my friend Tiffany. She is pretty cool. I take cooking classes with her.

It was a fun day and I cannot wait to do it again.

I hope you like my blog.

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Andrew’s Blog Post #5

Down syndrome Awareness

My mom and I were really busy this past month. It was Down syndrome awareness month.
All month we handed out ribbons at events. I put one on every day and so did my family.
My mom helped me host a bbq at Zehrs in Kingsville. We raised money for our Windsor/Essex Up About Down
Association. This will help with cooking classes for me and my friends. They are so much fun. Thank you to PJ at Zehrs and Madonna at Zehrs and all the employees. You helped make our day fun.
These are some of my friends that helped or stopped by to buy a hot dog. It was a really fun day!
We spoke at St. Clair College in Chatham. They had a bbq for us and we saw many new people.
I really like talking to the students. It’s like being a teacher in front of everyone.
I gave everyone Down syndrome ribbons and stickers. Thank you it was so much fun.

We went to the University of Windsor. We spoke to 3rd year students in the Developmental Disabilities course.This was so much fun. There is 100000 students there.  I was not afraid and it was really cool. Everyone liked my Down syndrome ribbons i gave them.The students brought in canned food for me to give to the Homeless shelter. Thank you for helping me with this.

The Public Relations club from St. Clair College asked me to their Halloween Photo booth day.
I gave tattoos and ribbons to everyone.
We met lots of great people. Thank you Cierra and Nick for having us with you. The club took donations for the Windsor/Essex Up About Down Association for cooking classes. I like taking the classes. They are very kind to help us. Thank you so much.
My mom and I went to Waterloo. This was a long drive. I got to have fun with all my new friends at their Buddy Walk.
I gave everyone tattoos and ribbons.
We danced and sang songs. I liked doing things like this.
Thank you for inviting us.
I hope you like my post.
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Andrew’s Blog Post #4

My mom and I went to London on Saturday to meet a new friend.
His name is Matthew. It was a really fun day.
We went bowling and had some lunch.
Matthew likes music, movies, games and eating at restaurants. His favourite thing to watch is Glee. I love Glee.
We love doing the same things.
He is turning 25 years old in November. I am turning 25 in April.
I cannot wait to see him again in December.

Here is a picture of Matthew and me.

This is a picture of Matthew, me and Christine. She is really cool.
Christine works with Matthew and does fun things with him. I was happy to meet her.

This is a picture of Cayla, me, Christine and Matthew hanging out at the bowling alley. Cayla was fun to hang out with. She is from Africa and i like how she talks. I showed her how to bowl. I think she already knew how to bowl. But i helped her anyway.

My mom had a fun day too. She had lunch with some ladies. They are her new friends.
My mom was picked to be Mom of the month for August. This is her birthday month.
All of these ladies are moms of the month. I am very proud of her. She was chosen because of how she juggles life. I think it’s called it Work, Life, Balance.
If i get stuck, my mom helps me and works with me. My mom is very patient with me and never gives up. My mom takes time for herself even if i keep her busy.
I love her for it.

This is a picture of Michelle, my mom, Mama Deb (She picked my mom for mom of the month) Nina and Kelly.

This is a picture of Kathy, Mama Deb and my mom. Kathy is Matthews mom. My mom was so happy to meet her.

This is me and Mama Deb. I was telling her all about my life and how I love it!

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you liked it. Hugs to you all.

Andrew Banar

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October Is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Down Syndrome Awareness Month

“October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, a chance to spread awareness.
During the month, we celebrate people with Down syndrome, their abilities and accomplishments.” Please join Andrew Banar, owner of Group Hug Apparel in celebrating Down Syndrome Awareness Month by wearing a blue & yellow lapel ribbon that will be available at Zehrs in Kingsville for the entire month of October or by contacting Andrew’s mom Karen Pickle ( in the Windsor/Essex County area.

Also as part of Down syndrome Awareness Month, Saturday Oct 10th from 10-3 Andrew & his Group Hug Apparel will be hosting a BBQ at Zehrs ~ Hot dogs, sausage & hamburgs & drinks.
Proceeds from the ribbon donations and the BBQ will support programs for people with Down syndrome within our community like these awesome cooking classes Andrew takes with his friends.

If your business would like to participate by hosting an event to help raise awareness and support programs for people with Down syndrome please feel free to contact us anytime. We would be happy to talk further and help make your event a success.

Thank you to Zehrs in Kingsville, Madonna and all the wonderful volunteers for helping to make our event a success.

~ Thank you,
Andrew Banar ~ Group Hug Apparel

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I Remember The First Day Of School

Oh how i miss the first day of school & seeing Andrew so excited about experiencing this part of his life……. well maybe not so much Andrew and to tell you the truth, maybe it was just me, a mom thing seeing your child experience the first of everything, celebrate the first part of his life that he/we will only experience once.
I still remember the first new back pack, and his yellow coat with his first new lunch box and thermos, oh and the first day of meeting the teacher & bus driver along with new friends and new relationships ……… all for the very first time and how it brings me back, back to a time of emotions and feelings that i got to experience for the first time with Andrew. I know i said this already but Oh how i miss the first day of school, especially after seeing so many pictures being posted and shared of little ones some looking happy and some not to sure of what they will encounter on their first day of school. Even thought Andrew is 24 now and finished school, he asked me if he could go back and do it all again.
You see, Andrew & I have all sorts of neat conversations and when he asked me this I was confused and i knew that we needed to talked further about his idea.
I started off by explaining that you go through each grade one at a time and said that when each grade is done, you move onto the next grade then the next year. I mentioned that as we get older and we accomplish these areas of our life, we cannot start the process over again. We finish, graduate and move onto a different part of our life’s journey. Andrew said that he wanted to go back to school and that he could do this because they would let him, he could go back to grade school and not take the classes but be part of the class and help to teach the students, be an Educational Assistant and help others and with that, we are always making plans and working with his abilities so he can achieve the closest approximation of his idea as he can without starting off automatically at NO. We will be looking into Andrew helping out by reading to students and letting him experience being an Educational Assistant in his own way and he was excited about trying this for another new first in his life :)
We hope everyone had a fantastic first day of school.

To learn more about Andrew, feel free to check out his website and face book page’s
~ Group Hug Apparel ~


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Inspiring Business Owners

I was looking through previous e mails and i came across one that was written by Maureen Wallace of SheKnows media about Inspiring Business Owners who not only have a business but they also have Down syndrome. Reading this again made me remember that what Andrew is doing with his life is so important to him and many others.

Maureen shares in her article from September 2013 the following information.

“These are not your parents’ perceptions of disability!

Most parents say dreams for their children’s future center on one goal — happiness. For parents of children with special needs, we often add “independence.”

As mom to a 3-year-old with Down syndrome, I think about Charlie’s future in some way every day. It’s a very different approach to parenthood because while no child’s happy, successful and productive future is guaranteed, options are much more plentiful for a typically-developing child, such as my daughter.

I worry how we’ll pay for college for both of them (while worrying if Charlie will be able to attend college). I worry whether my daughter will choose sports over drugs and ambitious friends over slackers (while worrying whether Charlie will be able to cross the street safely by himself one day).

Then I learn of families who pushed worries to the side and focused on their child with Down syndrome — his likes, her abilities, his talents or her hobbies. I’ve learned that when parents allow children to steer their own destinies, good things can happen.”

Maureen writes about 3 young Inspiring Business Owners Tim Harris owner of Tim’s Place , Christian Royal owner of Christian Royal Pottery and our own Andrew Banar owner of Group Hug Apparel, all who have Down syndrome. Feel free to read more here and since this was written almost 2 years ago, please go to their sites and see what has happened since her article.

Thank you Maureen for reminding me that Tim, Christian & Andrew are taking the fear out of the word “future” for so many families.

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Mason’s Fight

Andrew had the opportunity to meet his new friend Mason last week and he gave him, along with his mom and dad some of his “Be Strong Rock On” shirts. Andrew enjoys giving his shirts to little ones to help keep them brave and strong during an illness or receiving treatments. He calls them “his super hero shirts”. Mason had returned home from London Sick Children’s hospital the day before and his momma thought that it was a good time to meet him while he was feeling well. It was so nice to finally meet Chantelle and Mason and to see first hand at how brave and strong they are for each other.

If you ever have the opportunity to meet this amazing momma, you will see true beauty and positive energy that she has for her 3 year old son Mason. Chantelle is so soft spoken and focused on what is important right here, right now for Mason.
On Mason’s face book page ” Mason’s Fight”, Chantelle writes that on April 24th 2015, their world changed when Dr’s discovered a mass in his pelvic area pushing on his bladder. After being transferred to London Sick Children’s Hospital and many tests later, it was confirmed that Mason had stage 2 Rhabdomyosarcoma embryonal cancer.
For Mason, he has begun his 43 weeks of treatment, will under go some surgery and receive radiation to kick this disease out of him and this is where his mom and dad are amazing. They are not looking back just forward, towards Mason’s future and what they need to do today, one test, one treatment & one day at a time. Making sure that Mason can enjoy his toys & trucks that he loves and everything else that a 3 year old should be enjoying, his childhood.
Mason may be your Hero mom and dad, but i am sure that one day he will recognize that you are his hero’s as well. A family of true super Hero’s. That’s pretty cool.

Please follow this wonderful family for updates on face book ~ Mason’s Fight. You can share your love and support for Mason and we will continue to share ours with you as well. We are praying for you Mason, Andrew say’s “you got this buddy”.
Sending you love.

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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, we hope you have a fantastic birthday!
…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 birthday 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.

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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