Carissa was born and raised in southwestern Minnesota and received her undergraduate degree from Bethel University and a Master’s of Education from the University of Minnesota in Applied Kinesiology. She has been an educator at the elementary and collegiate levels since 2003 and considers her best teaching opportunity to be the three children that call her mom.
Carissa became the Founder and Executive Director of a non profit organization called Jack’s Basket in 2014, after a year of discovering the amazing joy in the unexpected. Her middle child, Jack, was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome. She shares that his life inspired her to share the mission that every child should be celebrated and every family congratulated. At his one-year birthday they delivered their first Jack’s Basket containing a letter of encouragement, gifts, resources, and support to another family that would receive the same unexpected news they experienced. After sharing the journey on her blog and local and national media exposure, there was an overwhelming response from others which allows Jack’s Basket to celebrate all babies born with Down syndrome in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, Rochester, Duluth, and soon-to-be St. Cloud and Mankato areas, along with sending them around the United States.
Jack’s Basket recently celebrated their 275th baby and was honored to share that many areas around the country were inspired by the idea and have started a program in their own communities. Carissa also has a mission of bridging the gap between medical professionals and families raising children with Down syndrome by providing up-to-date information on Down syndrome, research based information on how to deliver a diagnosis, and a family’s perspective on raising a child with Down syndrome. Carissa lives in the Twin Cities with her husband Chris, and three children, Luke (5), Jack (3), and Taylor (1).
If we peeked in your purse right now, what would we find?
A few empty gum wrappers, expired coupons (I had good intentions), a checkbook, clutch with CCs, lip gloss, roll on perfume bottle, the Honest Co. hand sanitizer spray, receipts for my nonprofit, and a whistle because my educational background is in Applied Kinesiology and it’s essential to have when teaching physical education at the elementary and collegiate levels. Also, I always have a little container of wet wipes, because when you have a five, three, and one-year old, you can’t leave home without them!
Why do you call the Twin Cities home?
I grew up in Southwest MN, near Luverne, MN, which is a small, wonderful community filled with great people and values! Growing up, we only made it to ‘town’ for school and church and always had to plan ahead because if you ran out of butter there was no running to the store, you asked your neighbor. After high school I came up to the metro area to college at Bethel University. I loved the city life, the lakes, the hustle and bustle of people and attractions, and then met my husband in my last year in college, who is from the Roseville area. Although I claim him to be a ‘city slicker,’ I definitely can always tell him where North is and never take for granted that a store is within yards away. I couldn’t imagine our lives any other place and truly enjoy all the excitement the ‘big city’ provides.
What’s been the greatest joy of motherhood?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one thing but I think experiencing a joy and love I’d never imagined before. To be chosen for the gift of motherhood and see my three kids grow, watching their personalities develop, and get a front row seat in discovering how unique each of them are, is something I find great joy in. Also, seeing my husband as a father has been such a gift to me. I’m still in awe of the miracle of birth and how my husband and I got to be a part in creating these amazing little people.
What’s been the greatest challenge of motherhood?
Besides constantly trying to find the balance of work, play, and rest, I think I’ll share my perspective of being a mom of a child with special needs and what I’ve found to be the greatest challenge on this journey. Many would assume it might be about my child, but it’s not. My biggest challenge and what draws me to my knees is how others perceive what my child’s life is like and evaluate his worth. With my child having Down syndrome, from the very beginning, some have decided my child’s value was based on the number of chromosomes he has and honestly not worth living. He is sometimes viewed as a diagnosis, or a group of people, and not as Jack. I desire for my child to be viewed as who he is…a boy, son, brother, grandson, nephew, friend, student and classmate, and was created with a purpose just like you and I. We love him deeply and accept him just the way he was uniquely created and wish the world would too. This part of the journey is emotionally draining and I desire for my child to be respected, valued, and loved like each of us deserve to be.
How do you hope your life influences and/or inspires other women?
I’m hopeful my life has encouraged people to embrace life’s experiences as an opportunity to grow and reveal your strength, faith, and hope. I am hopeful that people can see how when life’s events are unexpected, you grieve what you thought, and you truly embrace the reality and live out the purpose of your life. I also hope that it encourages others to speak for those that can not speak, to make change happen, and bring encouragement and love to those around you.
Twin Cities Favorites
Date Night: We actually enjoy going for ‘running dates’ as that is how we really got to know each other while dating. You can cover a lot of topics in a five mile run, and then follow up with a great meal together. A fun local place we like to eat is Panino’s along with Good Earth, Brasa, Pittsburgh Blue, and Fogo de Chau for a special occasion. We try to be creative with date nights because we schedule it weekly (thanks to encouragement from my older sister), so it might not be realistic to always go out, but rather putting the kids to bed early and eating dinner together after they go to bed. We make it a point to date each other.
Entertainment: We enjoy attending sporting events, traveling, and being active together.
Shopping (for YOU!): I have always loved JCrew, and because I wear activewear most of the day, I am a sucker for anything on clearance at Lululemon.
Relaxation: Honestly, I love going for long runs. If it’s listening to podcasts, messages, music, or catching up with my running partner, I just love experiencing the early morning quiet before the city wakes up. The best part is getting a coffee afterwards and having started the day feeling so productive and most of the world isn’t even up yet. Running has helped me be a better mom and wife. I’ve only been a runner for the past 15 years and it keeps me mentally and physically healthy.
We love having the opportunity to share the personal sides of local Moms of the Twin Cities! If you would like to recommend another local Mom you think should be featured in our I Am a Twin Cities Mom series, please email us at [email protected]