Episode #58: From Hunger Games to Children’s Books: The Unstoppable Sofia Sanchez!

How Sofia Sanchez, a Model, Actor, and Author with Down Syndrome, is Breaking Barriers and Inspiring the World

How Sofia Sanchez, a Model, Actor, and Author with Down Syndrome, is Breaking Barriers and Inspiring the World
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Show Notes:

In this inspiring and heartwarming episode of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast, Tonya interviews Jennifer Varanini Sanchez and her daughter, Sofia Sanchez. Sofia, who has Down Syndrome, is a child model, actress, and voiceover actor. Sofia and Jennifer share about their experience filming the Hunger Games movie, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and some of Sofia’s favorite memories of being on set. The conversation also touches on their experiences traveling to multiple countries and immersing themselves in the local cultures. Sofia’s achievements in modeling and acting have inspired and given hope to many parents of children with disabilities who believe that their children can achieve their dreams.

Jennifer and Sofia talk about how they began working with children’s book author Margaret O’Hare to write four children’s books that promote inclusion, acceptance, and love in families, regardless of what they look like. Jennifer and Sofia’s story is one of resilience, passion, and hard work. Their experiences in modeling, acting, traveling, and writing have shown that anything is possible with determination and support. The episode is a must-listen for anyone looking for inspiration and motivation to pursue their dreams, no matter their circumstances.

Connect with Jennifer and Sofia:

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Resources for Down Syndrome Families:

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Grab your chance to win 2 signed books about Sofia Sanchez, a teen actress, model, and advocate for Down syndrome!

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Music Used: “LazyDay” by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Artist: http://audionautix.com/

Meet Today’s Guests:

Jennifer Varanini Sanchez is the mother of 4 busy teenage children, two of whom have Down syndrome. She’s a makeup lover and a Down syndrome and adoption advocate.

Sofia Sanchez is a 14-year-old actress, model, and Down syndrome advocate of Ukrainian-American descent. She made her acting debut in the television series, Switched at Birth, and has since appeared in a variety of productions, including the films For Paloma and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. She has also been featured in print ads and commercials for prominent brands like Old Navy and Target. Sofia’s inspiring adoption story has been the subject of several Scholastic picture books, including You Are Enough and You Are Loved.

Episode #58: From Hunger Games to Children’s Books:

The Unstoppable Sofia Sanchez!

How Sofia Sanchez, a Model, Actor, and Author with Down Syndrome, is Breaking Barriers and Inspiring the World

(Recorded March 27, 2023)

Voice of Tonya Wollum, the host of the Water Prairie Chronicles: In this episode of The Water Prairie Chronicles, we continue our conversation from episode 57 and chat about Sofia Sanchez’s role in the Hunger Games movie, the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a new book about Sofia and other exciting projects this teen model, actress, and voiceover artist has going on.

Join me for this inspiring conversation. With Jennifer Varanini Sanchez and her daughter Sofia, as they share their journey of breaking down barriers and achieving success in the entertainment industry, get ready to be inspired by Sofia’s confidence and professionalism and learn how she is making a difference as she proves to the world that different is beautiful.

Tonya: So I wanna, I wanna talk to both of you a little bit about the new Hunger Games movie now that’s coming out in November, if I remember correctly.

Jennifer: Yes. You wanna tell when it’s coming out?

Sofia: It’s coming out November 17th

Tonya: November 17th,

Jennifer: 2023.

Sofia: 2023

Tonya: Wow. That’s coming up pretty soon. Are you getting excited?

Sofia: I’m so excited.

Jennifer: Yes. We don’t know what we, you know, we won’t have seen the movie until you do, so it’s very exciting.

Tonya: Right. And when we first connected, it was before you had just gotten the role, I think, or it was maybe before you got the role back in the summertime and or before you announced it publicly. You, you, you probably already knew at that point. And then you were gone for what, three or four months, I believe?

Jennifer: Yeah,

Sofia: Four months.

Jennifer: Four months.

Sofia: Yep.

Tonya: So, um, so let’s back up a little bit. Um, Jennifer, when did she start modeling?

Jennifer: So, Sofia has been modeling since the day she entered our family. She is a very photogenic little girl. Um, so, but her first job was, I wanna say when she was probably four. Um, and. It was a job that was like kind of a social media campaign and we realized how photogenic she was.

So an agent was like, we think she has like a career in this.

Tonya: Wow.

Jennifer: So we got an agent that specializes in, um, people with disabilities. So a diversity talent agency, which is down in LA called KMR Diversity, which still exists. And she’s still with, um, and that had really catapulted her career because they were known for finding, you know, filling roles in campaigns for major companies that were looking to be more inclusive in their advertising.

So, She quickly became Target’s little darling who was doing, she did a ton of Target commercials and she, she’s posing right now, I think. And, um, then we went on to, yeah, she’s been pretty much, we’ve checked boxes off all the major retailers. You know, Old Navy, Athleta, Abercrombie, Gap, American Girl, Pottery Barn here.

What, like, the list goes on and on. Um, But it wasn’t until she was, I think, gosh, I always get this age wrong and I should know this, but I wanna say early elementary, she was cast in a TV show called Switch At Birth. Okay. Which, um, was a very popular ABC Family TV show that featured characters that were deaf.

Um, and there was a lot of sign language on this show, and she was cast in a really important role. Um, and that when she did that, you know, it was a different kind of thing. It’s not taking pictures, it’s actually doing what the director wants you to do and having lines at a very young age, and she was excellent.

And the director said he’d never seen anyone who was so natural. Um, and that, you know, even typically developing children had difficulty with the things that they a, that they asked her to do that she didn’t have trouble with. So we quickly learned that this was something she was maybe born to do, um, and has a special talent for it.

So, as a mom, when you know that your child has a special talent, you try and find more opportunities for them to blossom. So that’s what I, and she enjoys it and has so much fun.

Tonya: So do the two of you work together to help her get ready for her roles or does she do it all by herself now?

Jennifer: Well, in the beginning, well I, obviously I’m her mom and I coach her and help her.

Um, and, but for the Hunger Games movie, it was the first time she knew her lines. Quickly and easily cuz she reads and she’s able to understand scripts, um,

Sofia: I read scripts.

Jennifer: She loves to read scripts, she loves reading plays. So that was easy. She understood her lines and it was the first time I decided she’s 13.

This is a big movie. I’m gonna take a step back and let her do this on her own and just, See what happens. And it was very hard as a mom to let go and to like let go and trust that it’s all gonna work out. So I sat with the rest of the moms. There were four kids on this, on the, there’s only four children that are under 18 in the movie.

And so I sat with the rest of the moms of those kids and did what any typical mom would do and just look at a screen where you can’t hear anything. You don’t know what is happening out there. You could see a picture and. She would, she would nail it so quickly she’d be back from her role. You know her

Tonya: Wow.

Jennifer: Little part. And I’d be like, that’s it. She got it. And they’re like, yeah, she got it. So, um, she, she’s an expert at this stuff. She’s a pro.

Tonya: That that is, that is a gift. You’re right.

Jennifer: No fear of people, cameras, situations. Yeah.

Tonya: So Sofia, can you tell us a little bit about the movie? I don’t know what you’re allowed to say or not say, but, um, but what can you tell us about the movie itself and the character that you played?

Sofia: I played Wovey, and it was the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I was so excited to this huge movie for this community I’m doing and

Jennifer: tell her what district Wovey is in and what are you as Wovey, what is Wovey?

Sofia: She’s is in District 8,

Jennifer: she’s in District 8 and she’s a tribute

Tonya: She’s a tribute, and I know Tributes,

Jennifer: you’re one of the tributes, so that’s what she can say is she’s one of 24 tributes.

District 8. If for those Hunger Games fans’ know what we’re talking about. She’s from District 8 and she is, yeah, her name is Wovey. Can you tell them what’s in the district? What’s District 8 known for?

Sofia: Um,

Jennifer: textiles and fabric, which is why her name is Wovey.

Tonya: Okay.

Jennifer: Woven,

Tonya: right.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Tonya: Right. Interesting. Okay, so I’m, I, I’ve seen some of the movies, not all of them, but, um, my daughter loves them and so we’ve watched some with her and um, so I think we’re gonna watch it together whenever it comes out. So I’m looking forward to it as well.

Jennifer: And the books are really good too. Like if you were like reading.

Sofia: Should I get the book?

Jennifer: Oh, it’s okay. No it’s okay. She was gonna say, can she show you? So it’s all the movies are based off the book. So that’s fun too because Sofia was able to read the story as well as we just started watching the movies ourselves. Cuz this, this movie, the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it’s a prequel, so you don’t necessarily have to be familiar with the Hunger Games to watch it, which is nice.

So it’s like the beginning of the story.

Tonya: Sofia, um, what’s your favorite memory of filming the movie?

Sofia: When I was filming, I was, Excited to do it and I was not nervous, but my favorite part of the movie was meeting the people.

Jennifer: Yeah. Who did you meet? Tell her the people you met.

Sofia: I met Rachel Zegler.

Jennifer: Uhhuh. Who else?

Sofia: And I met Peter Dinklage,

Jennifer: Peter Dinklage,

Sofia: and Viola Davis.

Jennifer: And who was your director that you love?

Sofia: The director, I loved Francis.

Jennifer: Francis Lawrence. So, I think what she, what she talked about and what she enjoyed the most, I, what I saw as a mom was meeting so many different people from around the globe really. And she got to know them pretty well because we were together in foreign country for so long,

Sofia: and also I met Kaitlyn Akinpelumi.

Jennifer: Uhhuh. And you also met Hunter Schafer.

Sofia: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: And yeah, just like lots of, and then your favorite thing was meeting your, the other kids.

Sofia: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: She got to be kind of like really close friends.

Sofia: I got to meet Luna, Cooper, and Knox.

Jennifer: Loved the kids. Yes.

Tonya: Did the four of you spend a lot of time together?

Sofia: Yes, we did.

Tonya: So I’m, I’m sure you’re staying in touch afterwards now.

Jennifer: Yes. Very close friends. And the other fun thing was being in a foreign country, what did you get to try and taste all the time?

Sofia: All the different kinds of food.

Jennifer: All the different kinds of food. Yes.

That’s always a highlight for Sofia is the food.

Sofia: Yes.

Tonya: Now I was, I was following your adventures a little bit while you were over there cuz you were posting on social media and it looked like you were traveling in a lot of different countries. So, Sofia, what was it like traveling to so many different countries?

Sofia: I like traveling and it makes me happy when I travel with her. Because we went to to the countries, but we went to .

Jennifer: We went to so many countries we can’t give it away cuz that’s one of our truths. But um, we went to so many countries and learned culture and again, food and different

Sofia: We also got to see like German

Jennifer: Oh yeah we got to hear different languages. That’s very true. Yes. She said she got to hear German and French. And

Sofia: Oh and Portuguese

Jennifer: oh yeah.

Sofia: And Ukrainian.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm. Some Ukrainian, some Polish. Mm-hmm. We went to London and saw lots of plays, so we just took advantage. Wanna tell about that?

Sofia: Oh yeah, so at first I saw,

Jennifer: Oh she’s talking about the theater. We went to the theater district in London and saw a lot of plays because, you know, it’s such a big culture in Europe to. To go to live theater instead of the movies. So we took advantage of that.

Sofia: And the next one was Life of Pi was also, but Puppet. Mm-hmm. And the other one was Matilda.

Jennifer: We saw Matilda.

Sofia: I love Matilda. We also saw Mama Mia.

Jennifer: Uhhuh.

Sofia: It was also my favorite.

Jennifer: And then Six.

Sofia: And then Six. There you go.

Tonya: Wow.

Sofia: And my was


Jennifer: And then in Hungary, we went to the baths in Hungary.

Sofia: Oh yes.

Jennifer: And we went to a ballet in. Um,

Sofia: It was called Swan Lake.

Jennifer: In the Czech Republic, we went to Swan Lake.

Sofia: Yes.

Jennifer: So, yeah, we just did, we immersed ourself in culture.

Sofia: We had fun.

Tonya: Nice, nice. I mean, it was a long time to be away from home, but it sounds like you were making the most of being there.

Sofia: Yes.

Jennifer: And we were so fortunate to have the family come and visit a couple of times. Um, and then we got to see family and friends even came all the way to visit. So, Um, and you know, with the, with the way the world works with FaceTime and stuff, you never feel that far away. You know, you can connect real easily daily.

So we did that. So we figured this is, this is a once in a lifetime thing. Let’s just enjoy it. And you, you know, utilize, this is an opportunity for world. I called it World School. You know, so, yeah.

Tonya: So, Sofia, how did you face some of the challenges that you had during filming? Or did you have any challenges, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Sofia: Well,

Jennifer: was anything hard for you or was it all easy?

Sofia: There was one thing that is hard for me, I cannot see in the dark. It was like, it was,

Jennifer: it was a scene. It was dark. And what, how did you conquer that? How did you face her fear?

Sofia: I faced my fears. I took a deep breath, and I let it go away.

Jennifer: She took a deep breath and just

Sofia: let it go.

Jennifer: Let her fear go and

Sofia: And I did it.

Jennifer: Yep. Did it.

Tonya: That’s good advice for anyone going through something that they’re afraid of. Sofia, how did you balance your filming and keeping up with your schoolwork for all those months?

Sofia: Well, it was.

Jennifer: You had a teacher on set,

I had a

Sofia: teacher on set, and

Jennifer: in your breaks. What did you do?

Sofia: Breaks… reading is one of my favorite things to do like on breaks when I’m on set or not on set because

Jennifer: the teacher would come and make sure, yeah, he would come. So part of being on set when you’re a child, that’s mandated by law, I think, to have a, a teacher on set. So she didn’t miss any school. Um,

Sofia: I couldn’t miss it.

Jennifer: So the kids would all get together and do their homework or, you know, work on certain things. But again, we used it as an opportunity to. Almost like a homeschool, but in a different country. And so we would learn all we could about each country. And um, so yeah, I think she got a better education in those couple of months than she would’ve gotten in the class, the classroom, you know? So we didn’t miss,

Steve: probably so.

Jennifer: Yeah. And the minute we got back, she went immediately into her regular school again and didn’t, again, didn’t miss a beat.

Sofia: Yep.

Jennifer: She was so happy to see everyone.

Sofia: I was happy.

Tonya: Um, Sofia, what are some of your goals for acting in the future?

Sofia: I want to do more movies and do more modeling and do more acting. Cause what I really want is to do modeling and acting myself.

Jennifer: Do you prefer movies or tv?

Sofia: I want to do movies, because most of my favorite things do is act.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm. And maybe musicals.

Sofia: And I love doing musicals too. Different … those two makes me happy. Cause my goals are guess happy.

Jennifer: And you’ve got some books too, right?

Sofia: Yeah, I’ve got some books.

Jennifer: That’s another thing she does is she, we help write some books. Right?

Sofia: Yeah.

Jennifer: Based on your life, so keep living your life.

Tonya: With the movie coming out and having Sofia representing the Down community, what’s your hope that the movie. How do you, how do you hope that it’ll impact audiences?

Jennifer: What’s really cool about this movie and Sofia being in it, is that the role of Wovey that she plays is not necessarily a character with a disability.

So in the book, it’s that there’s no disability on this particular child. So the fact that the casting agent decided to cast Sofia, I think is kind of groundbreaking because they cast her and there’s no mention of her disability. She’s not, the disability is not the focus. She is an actress playing the part of Wovey and she just happens to have Down syndrome.

So I think it’s gonna be mindblowing for a lot of the audience that’s not expecting it to see that. And also just see, again, she’s capable, she, she’s a child just like everyone else in this movie are, you know, cause in the game, So in the mo, in the Hunger Games, it’s basically children are put into this game scenario and why not have a child with a disability that gets called to be in this game?

So it’s kind of like equal opportunity. Um, and so I think it’s just gonna be really cool because it’s not like in your face, it’s very subtle. And it’s very implied and I think that that’s got a lot of power in it.

Tonya: I’m gonna skip ahead now to talk about the book some, but before we talk about that, and I, and I know you’re having trouble hearing, but there’s something I wanna play for Sofia.

I had the opportunity to visit the local Gigi’s Playhouse in my town, and they just moved to a new facility, so, They were giving me a tour of the facility and we talked a lot about those early diagnoses and things like that. But whenever I left they were about to have a speech class come in with teens and adults and they wanted to share something with Sofia.

So Sofia, they heard about the movie coming out. They knew that your book, You Are Loved had just come out. And I’m gonna play a message now. I’m gonna share the screen so you can see it. But, um, But this is what they sent to you.

Gigi’s Playhouse Raleigh: Congratulations from Gigi’s Playhouse Raleigh. Woo.

Jennifer: Aw, that’s so sweet.

Sofia: So sweet.

Tonya: So I told them I was gonna play that for you so that they could, um, could see your reaction to it.

And they’re gonna be watching this, so they’ll be able to see that your message to them as well. So, like I said, my surprises were little, but

Jennifer: Oh, I love your surprises. They’re perfect.

Sofia: I still love them.

Jennifer: Yep. We love little surprises and that was wonderful. We love Gigi’s Playhouse.

Sofia: Yes, we do.

Tonya: So I wanna talk about the book now.

Um, the You the You Are Loved book. Jennifer, we’re gonna, we talked a little bit earlier about how, we’ve already answered the question of how Sofia came to be part of your family, cuz you talked about the adoption, um, in your introduction. But how did the author Margaret O’Hare first find out about Sofia?

Jennifer: So Margaret is a, a PK kindergarten teacher in, um, our state county here in, in California.

And she saw Sofia, like most people do on social media, and saw that she was not too far from her geographically and reached out to us and said, gosh, I’d love to meet Sofia. She sounds lovely. Um, and we met her and she was wonderful and. I have always wanted to share her story in, um, in a book format, but like, just, I don’t have the time.

I, like, I, I did a lot of blogging when the, when the kids were little and that was my writing and, but I just didn’t know the process to writing a children’s book. And she did. She was a, she’s a children’s book author, so she and I collaborated and decided let’s do this together. And, um, she quickly, um, We basically, I, she’s like, do you want me to help you?

And I’m like, of course I do. I would love your help. And so she got, she got, she spent some time with Sofia, got to really know her. And then I would sit with her for many, you know, many lunches and breakfast where I would just talk about her experience. And between the two of us and Sofia, we came together and wrote, um, we self-published two books before we got a deal with Scholastic.

So we have Beautiful. You wanna tell them the two books?

Sofia: We have BeYOUtiful Love, Sofia,

Jennifer: and then we have

Sofia: We have Ride the Wave Love Sofia and Haole the Surf Dog.

Jennifer: Yeah. So we have, Ride the Wave Love Sofia and Haole, the Surf Dog, which is about surfing. With help. And then, yep. And then we had the BeYOUtiful Love Sofia, which is kind of an autobiographical. We did those ourselves, the two of us.

Um, and then we just happened to get a meeting with Scholastic that Meg had met the VP at coffee down in Southern California. It’s weird how things come together. I think it was all meant to be. This VP, Deborah Dorfman had seen Sofia as well, said I’d love to meet her. We went to New York City. We sat down in the Scholastic office with Clifford, the Big Red Dog all over the place.

And by the end of this one hour meeting, Sofia had charmed them and they’re like, we would love to do a book with you. So this book was an illustrated book and it was obviously the public, the publishing house is Scholastic and that that one’s called You Are Loved. Uh, I’m sorry. The first book is You Are Enough.

Um, a book about inclusion and it talks, you know, obviously about inclusion, which we’re so, um, so like, you know, it’s so much our mission is just inclusion, inclusion, inclusion, um, and acceptance and love of yourself, and then Scholastic, like that book was wonderful. Let’s do another one about Sofia’s adoption and talk about diverse families.

So You Are Loved as a book about families. And it talks about all the different kinds of families.

Sofia: Families fill me with love. So we can be together and work together so it can be loved again,

Jennifer: it doesn’t matter what your family looks like, as long as they love you

Sofia: because your family loves you, like you love your parents.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

Sofia: That way because your family is. Different is beautiful.

Jennifer: Different is beautiful, and your family can be different. And it’s still beautiful. So like Sofia introduces that she’s adopted and that’s how her family started. And then some families have are, you know, there’s a blended family. Some have grandparents that raise them, some um, you know, some have multi-generational families living under one roof.

You know, it just, and. Sometimes we look like our family and sometimes we don’t look like our family, but it just doesn’t matter. And so it’s a beautiful, inclusive family book.

Tonya: Um, Sofia, what age is the right age to read this book?

Jennifer: Four to eight.

Sofia: Four to eight.

Jennifer: That’s really meant for like.

Tonya: Okay.

Jennifer: I think, uh, I think anyone and everyone should read it, but it’s designed for ages four to eight.

Tonya: Those that are listening, Sofia has graciously signed two of those books. The You Are Enough and You Are Loved books for us, and if you’ll watch at the end of this segment, we’re gonna have a contest for you to be able to win those books. Sofia, thank you for signing those books for us. The books now you talked about you have You Are Enough and You Are Loved.

Are those two in a series? Is that how it’s running?

Jennifer: It’s kind of becoming a, um, a companion book to You Are Enough. So many of the characters that you meet and see in the first book are carried through in the second book, and you get to know their families a little bit better. Um, through pictures. The illustrations are quite lovely.

So what’s fun is you will have seen a lot of the characters in the first book they’ll reappear in the second book. Um, and that means, you know, we’ve got people that are wearing, you know, illustrations of people with hearing aids, illustrations with limb difference. Um, there’s, you know, depiction of people that are, um, blind.

Um, vi vitiligo, different sizes, shapes, colors, nationalities, religions. So it’s really lovely that, you know, we hope that everyone can kind of find themselves in the book.

Tonya: Are there any projects that are connected to the books? You, you have the deal with Scholastic as far as publishing the books. Is there anything else about the books or is there anything you can tell us?

Jennifer: Yeah, something exciting. What’s happening with the books? Um, they’re turning it

Sofia: into a cartoon.

Jennifer: Say it louder.

Sofia: Into a cartoon.

Jennifer: They’re turning it into the cartoon. What’s the cartoon called?

Tonya: That’s exciting. That’s exciting.

Jennifer: I know. Say it again,

Sofia: the Rocket Park.

Jennifer: It’s called Rocket Park.

Tonya: Do you know when that’s gonna start?

Jennifer: Yeah, so we don’t, I think that they are developing it right now and they’re shopping it around to different networks, so cross their fingers it gets picked up, but it would be the first cartoon that features a person with a disability as the lead. As the lead character. As the main character. So that would be Sofia and she, the premise is it’s based off the books, based off a little bit of her personality, but like just the spinoff of the books.

Tonya: Does that mean that Sofia will be doing the. The voice of the cartoon?

Jennifer: That would be the hope. Yes. We, they obviously cannot guarantee it because depending on what they need, if her voice needs to be younger or not, cause she’s 14, but you can tell ’em another project that you’re doing that you’re about to record.

Sofia: I’m doing a voice over on Nickelodeon.

Jennifer: Nickelodeon for a cartoon on Nickelodeon, so stay tuned.

Tonya: Wow.

Jennifer: And we’ll tell you the name of that as soon as we’re allowed. Right?

Sofia: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: But you’re, you’re practicing cause she’s recording next week.

Tonya: Jennifer, what advice would you give a family that’s considering adopting a child with Down syndrome?

Jennifer: Oh gosh. I would say, um, if you have the hunch or even like a small inkling toward it, please, please, like, pursue that and, um, I highly recommend it. Um, obviously, you know, Just like with any child, it’s going, you know, your, your experience is gonna be unique. I can’t say that you’re going to adopt a child and it’s gonna be a child that’s like Sofia Sanchez, but I can say that you’ll be blessed with, you know, a child that is going to bring you the most incredible love.

And, um, I, yeah, I basically, if you have a hunch, please, please. Go forward with it. Say yes to that hunch and, and even if you can’t be the one that adopts, maybe get involved in helping organizations that help find families. So you can be an advocate for finding connecting families or maybe raising funds for families to be able to afford it.

But I will say it was not something I’d ever imagined doing and I had that hunch. And if I hadn’t to followed that hunch, we would not have Sofia in our life. So I always say like, Please listen to the little urges inside of you and, and, um, maybe it is something that will bless your family.

Tonya: And are there, is there a particular organization that you went through or is there a group that you would recommend people to get in touch with?

Jennifer: So there’s lots. Um, we ended up doing an international adoption just because that’s how it just organically happened for us. It wasn’t necessarily that I wasn’t, that I wanted to adopt out of the country. There just was a huge need. So there’s a very long wait list for adoptions of, of people with Down syndrome in the United States, which is a great thing to have a wait list of families wanting a child.

So, um, uh, at least a baby. I think the, the list for adopting a older child, there’s still a need in the United States, but um, overseas there are countries that have a lot of children in orphanages that are abandoned based solely on their disability. And so, uh, we used Reese’s Rainbow, which I think is still in operation.

It’s a nonprofit that helps connect families with children in need and helps with the fundraising. And then, um, but otherwise, yeah, there you can just get again, a Google search for adoption and Down syndrome, and you’ll find a lot of different organizations that might be more local to you.

Tonya: Now, we’ve talked about some projects for Sofia already.

Do either of you have any other projects coming up that you wanna tell us about before we finish up here?

Jennifer: Yes, we do.

Sofia: We do.

Jennifer: We’re leaving next week. Where are we going?

Sofia: We’re going to

Jennifer: what country?

Sofia: Iceland.

Jennifer: Iceland. We’re heading to Iceland Next week.

Sofia: Yes, we are.

Jennifer: And it’s an, it’s a project for a nonprofit called Just Like You.

And again, more info to come, but it’s gonna be a humanitarian project looking at the country of Iceland as the first country to tout that they have eradicated Down syndrome through prenatal diagnosis. So we are going to go to Iceland. And find a little girl with Down syndrome. Her name is Kolfinna. She’s around 10 years old.

And we’re gonna have the girls meet and we’re gonna film that and kind of create some content to in start a dialogue about what, why, why, why is this happening? And it’s more to come. But basically in a nutshell, Iceland is a rare, beautiful country and we feel that Down syndrome is a rare, beautiful human, human condition. So we want to kind of meld those things together and start the conversation and maybe. Possibly change the direction that this country’s decided to take.

Tonya: When will we be able to find out or how can we find out when that will be posted?

Jennifer: I, if you follow our accounts, we will be posting about it at length once we are able to, once we finish the project and the content is released, but hopefully we’re hoping that Discovery or National Geographic pick it up and do kind of a bigger story.

Um, and it’s, you know, we have a, uh, the nonprofit has a lot of plans for how they’ll use it and we’re not sure exactly which one will be released first, but I will definitely share and hopefully you’re gonna hear about it just because it’s gonna hit a bigger network. But yeah, Sofia was invited to go.

We’re very blessed. We’re going with another little girl with Down syndrome, that’s also a model in actress Mia Armstrong. And the two girls will go and meet this little girl Kolfinna in Iceland and. Kind of give her love and we’ll, we’re gonna do some photo shoots and some, um, video and some documentary style stuff, so we’ll see what happens.

Tonya: Oh, nice. I’m, I’m looking forward to that. And that actually leads us to my last question. How, how should our listeners get in touch with you? I know Instagram is one way. Um, sh what is your, what are the two of your Instagram accounts?

Sofia: It’s called the, the dot Sofia dot Sanchez.

Jennifer: So Sofia’s is @the.sofia.sanchez, like she said, and mine is @thesanchezsix all spelled out. But you have a website too?

Sofia: Yes.

Jennifer: What’s your website?

Sofia: www.sofia-sanchez.com.

Jennifer: Tell ’em how you spell your name because that’s often a mistake.

Sofia: S O F I A.

Jennifer: So an F, not a PH.

Sofia: Not a PH,

Jennifer: yes. It’s always like that’s an F, not a PH.

Tonya: I’ll put those links in the show notes as well so that they can find you and those that are listening. If you haven’t found their accounts yet, I highly recommend that you follow them on Instagram because they post lots of information. Lots of good information. So for those that want to know more about Down syndrome, but also to find out what they’re up to.

Cuz this family travels a lot and does a lot of of interesting things. So, um, I’d love to talk to you more, but I know you have a, um, a deadline that you have to hit. So thank you both for joining me today and for telling us more about all these different projects that you’ve been involved with and helping us to understand more about the Down syndrome community.

Jennifer: Thank you so much for having us.

Sofia: Thank you for having us.

Voice of Tonya Wollum, the host of the Water Prairie Chronicles: IThank you for tuning into this inspiring interview with Jennifer and Sofia who have shared their incredible journey in modeling, acting, and writing children’s books. Sofia’s talent and determination have broken down barriers and opened doors for others with disabilities, proving that with hard work and determination, anyone can achieve their dreams.

Their children’s books promote inclusion, self-acceptance and love, and we encourage you to check them out in the show notes. Thank you Jennifer and Sofia for sharing your story with us today. And thank you Gigi’s Playhouse, Raleigh for your encouraging message to Sofia.

Voice of Tonya Wollum, the host of the Water Prairie Chronicles: IDon’t miss out on our special Mother’s Day book bundle giveaway.

Win two signed books by Sofia Sanchez. And celebrate diversity and inclusion with You Are Enough and You Are Loved. Head to https://waterprairie.com/giveaway to enter now. Good luck.

Steve: This podcast is made possible by support from our listeners. If you wanna help offset the cost of producing the Water Prairie Chronicles, become a supporter at buy me a https://coffee.com/waterprairie.

Voice of Tonya Wollum, the host of the Water Prairie Chronicles: IYou’ve been listening to The Water Prairie Chronicles, a podcast created to encourage and support parents of special needs children. If you found value in this episode, hit the like button and subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes of the podcast. I’m glad you were able to join us today, and I hope to see you back next week for another episode of The Water Prairie Chronicles.

Tonya Wollum


Tonya Wollum is a disability advocate and host of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast which connects special needs parents with resources to help them navigate parenting a child with a disability. She is the mother of 2 college-age children who have each grown up with a disability. That experience, along with a background in education, led her to create the Water Prairie Chronicles to help share what she has learned with parents of younger children to help them know how to advocate for their children.

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