Hundreds of people filled the Savannah Convention Center Friday night for the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society's annual Night of Champions.
The nonprofit's president, Joe Marchese, said the birth of his daughter was a call to action, inspiring him to start his own organization advocating for individuals with special needs.
"Sixteen years ago, my wife Molly and I had a beautiful baby girl. It just so happens that she has Down syndrome, and you know she is perfect, but the world doesn't accept that, so we'll just change the world. There's no need to change her. We will change the world for her," Marchese said.
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He said the night is an opportunity to recognize businesses that employ differently-abled people and celebrate those employees' contributions.
Charlotte Quaile is blind and is one of five champions being honored, with nearly four decades of work experience.
"I've been working at Goodwill for 39 years," Charlotte said. "Isn't that great 39 years, and she's hardly ever missed a day," said her sister Annie.
Marchese added that the Night of Champions doubles as a hiring event, with many employers realizing the work these individuals are capable of if given the right tools.
"It's not a pity hire. It's not, hey, go sweep in the back of the warehouse," Marchese said. "It's someone that you get to know, that you get to love, and it moves from inclusion to belonging. They become a member of the team, and your team is better for it."
Charlotte added that she is proud to hold a job and that she can now hang over 300 pieces of clothing a day.
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She said it feels good to be a part of something, working with others towards a common goal.
"Being with all my coworkers and hanging out and having fun. I'm part of the team," Charlotte said.
Marchese added that he hopes employers can take something away from Charlotte's story and become more open to hiring people with different abilities.