Simon founded I Am Who I Am in January 2012. The charity's eighth annual HollyDays will be held from 6-10 p.m. Saturday at the Beverly Arts Center. It costs $10 to attend the event at 2407 W. 111th St. in Morgan Park.
Simon's charity was born the moment her son, Nate, entered the world on Nov. 26, 2003. Rather than congratulate Simon on the arrival of her fifth child, doctors and nurses apologized.
Nate showed early signs of Down syndrome, prompting a script that straightaway went to talk of his immediate and long-term care. Lost forever was the joyous moment meant to celebrate the newborn's arrival.
Simon has never forgotten that feeling and has made it her mission to be sure others avoid the same fate. Thus, her charity delivers blankets to hospitals for babies who are born a bit different.
She also provides information for their parents, offering support and letting them know they are not alone. And finally, she speaks with doctors, nurses, school children and really anyone else who will listen about the importance of celebrating all children — no matter how they look or act.
"Every day a mother posts something about the birth of her child ... and the doctor saying he or she is sorry," Simon said. "But you are never alone. We are right here."
Simon has worked diligently to change such behaviors. Her I Am Who I Am program is used by Christ, Hinsdale, Little Company of Mary, Lurie and Palos hospitals, and more doctors have expressed interest, Simon said.
She'd happily satisfy all requests if she had the funding to do so. That said, she believes the upcoming HollyDays will help to further fulfill her mission with a night of music, designer drinks and special vendors.
"Every hospital wants us," she said. "It's amazing the eyes that light up when we talk straight from the heart."
HollyDays started at an Oktoberfest-style block party in 2006. Simon sold handbags for charity at the first event. Since then, some 20 vendors regularly attend the fundraiser. This year, several of the vendors are children who have been showcased as part of HollyDays.
Indeed, the fundraiser annually features professional photos of about 15 children living nearby who were born looking a bit different. Some of those same children have since become adults and will sell their handmade jewelry, candles, paintings and note cards at HollyDays.
"HollyDays has become such an awareness event. It is not just about the party anymore," said Simon, whose husband Dan, works as a lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department.
Music for the evening will be performed by Coyote Riot. And Lizzy Benner, a manager at the Beverly brew pub Horse Thief Hollow, will make craft cocktails, including a raspberry martini with blood orange and tarragon, an apricot margarita with fresh lime juice and mint and a fig-infused bourbon cocktail with lemon and sage.
Simon has also battled breast cancer and documented her life's struggles and accomplishments in a self-published book released in February. She said her thoughts are beginning to focus on her youngest son's long-term plans.
Nate, 13, will graduate from Mount Greenwood Elementary School this year. His mother is unsure where he'll attend high school and what is going happen after that. And despite her concern, Nate has told her he has a very clear career path.
"He completely knows he will be mayor," Simon said. "And nobody doubts him once they meet him because he is go brilliant."
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