When Cathleen Hines gave birth to two beautiful baby girls, neither she nor her husband, Bo, truly grasped the challenges they would soon face.
Shortly after the girls were born, Cathleen and Bo learned both of their daughters have Down syndrome.
“It was just a complete shock to the system,” Cathleen Hines said. “It’s not something you expect, especially times two. We didn’t know what to expect having a child, period, much less two, much less two with special needs.”
But what the young couple soon discovered was they were not alone. With the help of the Tuscaloosa community and the University of Alabama’s RISE Center, Sally Cate and Anne Rogers Hines have thrived.
The now 6-year-old sisters are two of 18 students who will graduate at RISE’s annual commencement ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 27, at the Stallings Center on UA’s campus.
The RISE Center, a part of UA’s College of Human Environmental Sciences, serves children with disabilities and their typically developing peers, from ages 8 weeks to 5 years. The children are divided by age among six classes, each with 16 students, one teacher and three assistants.
“The support we’ve gotten from RISE has been incredible,” Cathleen Hines said. “They have been there since day one, providing us with every resource possible. They want every child to succeed, whether that means graduating from college or coming back to work at RISE. They care about the kids. It’s about making the kids happy, not forcing them into anything.”
Despite the challenges that come from having two young children with special needs, the benefits have far outweighed any difficulties. The girls love to dance and swim, and they like playing jokes. They are independent, smart, motivated and cunning, and they love meeting people, Cathleen Hines said.
“Living life through their eyes has made us just stop and smell the roses a little more,” she said. “We celebrate every single milestone and life experience a little differently. No matter what, it’s a huge accomplishment. They have touched so many different lives. It’s great that they can go out and introduce people to a different way of life and communicating and teaching.”
The twins will start Verner Elementary in the fall, and, while there will be bumps in the road, Cathleen said RISE has offered to help make the transition as smooth as possible. But they still must get through RISE graduation first, which can be an emotional time for any parent.
“I can’t believe it’s actually here now,” Cathleen Hines said. “I remember dropping the girls off at the baby class. Then, you zigzag your way through the building each year until there’s nowhere else to go. At the start of every year, I would think, ‘I can’t believe we’re going to be there one day.’ And now, it’s that day. My girls are graduating.”