From her smile to her kind hear, Danielle Marino is special.
The 18-year-old walks the halls of North Harford High like she owns them. She's confident, she's a cheerleader and she was also crowned Prom Queen.
Danielle's Down Syndrome may slow her academically, but it hasn't hindered her socially. From the classroom to the cheer squad, Danielle's made a difference.
"I like all my friends," she said.
The fact that her friends voted her Prom Queen warmed her heart and her mom’s.
"She said mom I cried I was so happy and I said so did I,” Kim Marino, Danielle's mom said.
Kim Marino's laughter was tears years ago when Danielle was little. As a Special Education teacher who'd taught other special needs children, she knew what her daughter's diagnosis would mean.
"Once we kind of got through our emotions of sadness it ended up being a blessing and I haven't ever felt that disappointment again," Kim said.
Danielle is one of 14 special needs students at her school. She's learning life skills that will prepare her beyond North Harford High. Advocates for the disabled say her recognition is really a lesson for all of us.
"They saw all the gifts that Danielle has to offer," said chief executive officer of the Arc of Northern Chesapeake Region, Shawn Kros.
He said we've come a long way since the days where the disabled were left in institutions with no other options.
Danielle's story is a testament to that.
"Living, working, playing in the community. That is our mission statement, and that is our job to help people to make sure that happens for them," Kros said.
When Danielle graduates next month, she's off to Harford Community College for a special program for young adults with disabilities. While the college campus will be a bigger, broader reach, Kim's hopeful Danielle will continue to break down barriers.
"She makes an impact without even knowing she's doing that," Kim said. "I've always had that goal that we're a team, so we need to give an take and continue to work for her because that's what we're here for, and hopefully she'll just keep shining."
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