It’s been quite the year for Humber College alumna Jessica Rotolo.
Rotolo, who graduated from the Community Integration Through Co-operative Education program in 2021, made headlines when her design was selected as the winner for the #LotsOfSocks Campaign. The Down Syndrome International (DSi) campaign raises awareness about Down syndrome and gets people talking on World Down Syndrome Day, which is celebrated each year on March 21.
While that was exciting, she had another big moment in April when she strode down the catwalk over three nights as part of a Fashion Arts Toronto event. She marched with confidence, blowing kisses at the crowd, who cheered her on.
“I had so much fun at the Fashion Arts Toronto show,” said Rotolo, who will be attending a model bootcamp in August as she readies to grace the catwalk again for Fashion Arts Toronto in the fall.
She’s also been recognized by politicians of various levels for her advocacy for those with Down syndrome.
Beaches–East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith attended the World Down Syndrome Day celebrations at Rotolo’s alma mater Heydon Park Secondary School as did Beaches–East York MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon.
“It was truly an honour to be part of this special day with so many friends both old and new. It was filled with incredible speeches, music, dance performances, games, prizes, lunch and, most importantly, love from the community,” said Rotolo. “I hope to show you that being born with Down syndrome has never stopped me from dreaming. And it has never stopped my parents from believing in me.”
Erskine-Smith would later rise in the House of Commons to acknowledge Rotolo and her efforts supporting the Down syndrome community. He invited her to meet with him in Toronto at his constituency office where he presented her with a certificate of congratulations.
The recognition continued when Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce invited Rotolo and her parents to Queen’s Park. When she was introduced by the minister, she received a standing ovation. Lecce also presented Rotolo with an award.
Meanwhile, Rotolo’s winning design for the #LotsOfSocks Campaign was based on her painting “Love All the Colours of the World” and was selected out of hundreds of entries from around the world by DSi ambassadors, who also have Down syndrome. Her design was used on socks, which were sold by DSi, and the money raised will fund projects to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome across the globe.
Her mother Dorlean Lieghfars-Rotolo said about 17,000 pairs of socks were sold through the campaign.
The Toronto resident sent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a package that included the socks, a picture of her winning design and some cards she had created. Lieghfars-Rotolo said they received beautiful letters in response from Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland while Sophie Grégoire Trudeau sent them a personal email.
Rotolo also recently returned from the Best Buddies Leadership Conference in Indiana. It’s an organization that offers school programs to create friendships between people with and without an intellectual or developmental disability.
Rotolo is co-president of the Best Buddies Toronto Metropolitan University chapter and, during her time at Humber, she was a co-founder and co-president of the Best Buddies Humber North Campus chapter with University of Guelph-Humber graduate Lauren Abela.
She’s also serving a two-year term as a Best Buddies global ambassador and is the first Canadian to hold that role.
“What we really love about Best Buddies is that it has given Jessica so many opportunities to be a leader,” said Lieghfars-Rotolo.
When Rotolo dealt with hair loss due to alopecia, she always felt loved and supported by Best Buddies and her friends there. Rotolo is the co-director and co-producer of a new documentary exploring her hair loss and the effects of alopecia and how she has overcome it. Filming is underway.