October 21, 2020

2007-02-23 – The Tampa Tribune

2007 02 23 The_Tampa_Tribune_Fri__Feb_23__2007_

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father, Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio, and a famous rock musician.

Teen With Down Syndrome

Shares Dreams In Poetry

By SUSAN HEMMINUWAY
The Tampa ‘liihunc

TAMPA — Melissa [{iggio, an 18—
year-old with Down syndrome. asks
whether she is just a broken angel.

God sent her here to heal. she
writes. She is an ordinary woman.

Those are words from “The Ring,"
a poem by Melissa.

She is a deep-sea (liver of her
emotions, expressed in poetry. N ow.
she also is a songwriter.

“The Ring” became lyrics when
British singer Rachel l’uller com—
posed music to accompany the
poem. Fuller sings "The Ring" in a
soaring, angelic voice on a single.-
song CD.

Oh, yes, the disc's pmdueer: Full-
er's significant other, guitarist Pete
Townshend of The Who.

This month. Barnes & Noble
bookstores across the country will
hold story-time events for (i~ to
8—year-olds about how people with
Down syndrome have talents and
dreams.

Events are scheduled lll l‘ampei
stores on Saturday and 'l'utrsdeiy.
“The Ring" and “Love is 21 Potion." a
second song by Melissa dllLl Fuller.
will be playing in the background.

The Who Connection

Melissa is the daughter of Barnes
8: Noble CEO Steve Riggio, a huge
Who fan. He expects to be in the
audience when The Who plays at
the Ford Amphitheater in Tampa on
March 13.

He and Townshend have been
friends since they were introduced
at the Broadway production of
“Tommy."

Two years ago, they were catch-
ing up over lunch in New York (Iity.
The conversation turned to family.

Steve Riggio mentioned his
daughter liked to write poems. and
Townshend asked to see tlwm. Full-
er fell in love with “The Ring."

Melissa is expressive in her poetry
and journals, but she wasn't in a
recent phone interview

Feeling shy, she let her father and
mother, Laura, do most of the talk—
ing on speakerpl‘n‘me.

Melissa lives with her parents and
two sisters in New Jersey.

The question of where she finds
inspiration was one she Vilrx willing
to answer. For that, she needed just
a single word: “Feelings."

Her interior life —- what she feels
inside — becomes her poetiy.

In the December-Ianuaiy issue of
National Geographic Kids maga—
zine, Melissa says she wishes people
would see her for what's on the
inside. Her characteristic features of
Down syndrome, slanted eyes Ellltl a
wide face, make [)CUplE‘ look too
much at what's on the outside.

l E'LESSA RIGGIO

Melissa, a New Jersey teen with
Down syndrome, says that what she
feels inside inspires her poetry.

RELATED EVENTS

E vents about Down syndrome for
children 6 t0 8 will be at two area
Barnes & Noble bookstores.

2 pm. Saturday: 11802 N. Dale Mabry
Highway in Carrollwood. Karen
Dearolk, co-founder of Up With
Downs, a parent support group in
Tampa, will talk about Down syn-
drome, and children will explore
poetry and art.

11 am. Tuesday: 213 N. Dale Mabry
Highway, Tampa. Children will learn
how kids with Down syndrome are a
lot like them.

Photo by NELSON BAKERMAN
Melissa Riggio’s poems were put to music thanks to a friendship between her

Despite intellectual disabilities,
people with Down syndrome can be

creative, Steve Riggio says.

"Their ability to express them-

selves creatively has been vastly

underrated," he says.

Like Other Teens In Many Ways

Down syndrome happens in one
(ii 733 births, according to the Na-
tional Down Syndrome Society.

Its effects range in severity but
always involve some degree of intel-
lectual impairment.

Despite having Down syndrome,

Melissa is like other teens in many

ways. She has been on her high
school swim team, works at the
YMCA and sings in the school cho-
rus.

She's a senior, and her school
career has been a mix of special-
education and mainstream Classes.

Her goal was to be in a regular
English class by 12th grade. She
madeit.

She has another goal for after
graduation this spring. Her big
dream is to be a singer.

“le0 Ring" and “Love Is a Potion" are
available for free download at
wmvmiggianet.

Reporter Susan Hemmingway can be
reached at (813) 259- 7951 or
shemmingway@tampatrib.com.