by Jillian Netherland | photography by David Fuller

In 2018, Chris and Cassie Manson entered a new chapter in their lives when their son, Welles, was born and received a postnatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Seeking to build a community of inclusion and positivity led the family to establish their organization, All is Welles (& Willa too!).

Finding hope

Cassie Manson, President and Co-Founder of All is Welles (& Willa too!) did not know during her pregnancy that her son, Welles, had Down Syndrome.

“When Welles was born, we had a scary and traumatic transfer to Maine Med,” Manson recalls. “The unknown just left me with a negative feeling in my heart.”

Shortly after, Welles received the postnatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Before discharge, Manson was given a book to read while the doctors described the health issues he would experience and the many ways he would face challenges in life.

“Welles is our third child—my husband and I were no spring chickens in parenting—but we had no idea what having a child with Down Syndrome meant and didn’t know anyone with Down Syndrome at the time,” recalls Manson. “I don’t want to say it was all negative because we had a lovely, positive nurse who helped shape my outlook, but after that, we weren’t given much hope.”

Starting the conversation

As the family navigated their new life with Welles, they wanted to show support for people with Down Syndrome through apparel but couldn’t find anything they liked. Feeling that the traditional blue and yellow awareness ribbon wasn’t for them, the couple opted to create their logo featuring three arrows symbolizing the three copies of the 21st chromosome, Trisomy 21, or Down Syndrome.

“We wanted something to be celebrated, so we designed some hats that we thought looked cool and that our friends and family would like to wear. We later added t-shirts, too.” Manson shares. “Wearing our hats and shirts out, no one knew what the three arrows meant, giving us the opportunity to talk about Welles and start the bigger conversation.”

The bigger conversation led to more considerable interest, and in 2019, the year after Welles was born, the Mansons founded their organization named after the phrase Cassie posted to her social media accounts after returning home from the hospital the previous year: All is Welles.

“The apparel took off, and we had some money—which we hadn’t been looking to do!” Manson explains. “We knew we wanted to change the narrative so that when people are given the diagnosis, they don’t have to feel the way that we did and can be hopeful—we wanted to find a way to support that.”


Supporting community

During its first year, All is Welles donated proceeds to support the Special Olympics of Maine. The following year, the organization embarked on the Giant Hat Check Tour, unifying local sports teams and presenting checks supporting this mission. Over the last five years, All is Welles (& Willa too!) has supported various Down Syndrome awareness walks, Auburn Suburban Buddy Ball, Preston’s March, #TeamRocket, the Matthew Closson Memorial Scholarship Fund, and Unified Basketball Programs at Lewiston High School, Leavitt Area High School, Edward Little High School, Lisbon High School and Middle School, Brunswick High School, and Mt. Ararat High School.

“Our early focus was really making sure that these Unified programs were well-funded and had the typical sports league amenities, like uniforms and announcers,” Manson shares. “When we first got involved with Auburn Suburban Buddy Ball, we came on board as the hat sponsor, ensuring that each Buddy received a hat—it’s vital that they all feel important and included.”


Adding to the team

As the organization’s name reveals, Welles was not the only surprise in store for the Mansons. In December of 2022, the family welcomed a daughter, Willa Ruby, who, unlike Welles, received a prenatal Down Syndrome diagnosis.

“I felt a lot more prepared knowing what I was getting into this time around, but it was still a scary time, being aware of all the health issues that can arise,” shares Manson. “With Willa, I was offered termination more times than I should have been—which is part of the reason that we want to change the narrative because I can’t imagine my life without her.”

Down Syndrome affects all physical and cognitive functions of the body, so both Welles and Willa see many doctors regularly. While Welles has fortunately not experienced any major health issues thus far, Willa spent the first 44 days of her life in the hospital, requiring a gastrostomy tube due to being unable to feed orally. Since then, Willa, at five months old, underwent open-heart surgery in Boston and has experienced some hearing loss due to ear issues common in children with Down Syndrome.

“They have a lot more appointments and therapies than an average child would, including routine blood work, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy,” Manson shares. “Willa has low muscle tone, so she isn’t crawling yet—it’s absolutely a full-time job, but one thousand times worth it.”

With the addition of Willa to the family came the need for an updated logo for the organization. The Mansons have two older, typical sons, and then Welles and Willa, whose types of Down Syndrome are random versus genetic. The odds of Welles being born with Down Syndrome were a 1 in 600 chance and a 1 in 100 chance for Willa.

“The three arrows in our logo are sometimes referred to as ‘the lucky few’ and we really are!” states Manson. “It was important for us to keep this, while adding in the two Ws for Welles and Willa, along with the second tagline, ‘Where there’s a Willa, there’s a way!’”


Supporting inclusion

In 2023, All is Welles (& Willa too!) received the funds raised through the Squatch Open Tournament, a golf tournament in honor of Stephen Roop. Proceeds from the tournament allowed All is Welles to officially become a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This determination has allowed the organization to work with other nonprofits, receive additional funding, and make more apparel, leading to the creation of a grant program in support of activities throughout the LA community that support the three pillars of All is Welles (& Willa too!): inclusion, community, and perseverance.

“Our mission is to provide grants for individuals, teams, and organizations that seek opportunity, build community, and promote inclusion through sport or other activities while supporting people of all abilities,” Manson explains.

“The vision is to create long-term, positive impacts on individuals, families, and communities through advocacy and inclusive programming.”

The grant review process for awards is conducted on a rolling basis. Applicants will receive initial confirmation and communication regarding their submission within two weeks and a final decision within four to six weeks. Past recipients include the Lisbon High School Special Olympics Snowshoe Team and Spark Inclusive Art’s Spark Dance Program, providing dance school instructors with the tools, resources, and training to include people of all abilities and differing needs.

“Our goal is to really work with existing programs and make them more inclusive with a focus on how much typical people like you and I will also benefit from that inclusion,” shares Manson, who admits that as a sports family, a lot of their early focus has been in sports but that they are looking to become more involved with the arts, too. “I look at Welles – he’s a quirky little dude. He’s six now and needs some attention, but still benefits.”

To Manson, this spirit of inclusivity isn’t simply welcoming individuals with different abilities when they show up but purposely designing an atmosphere that embraces all individuals and celebrates the diversity we all bring.

“It’s intimidating to find a program where he’s intentionally welcome,” says Manson. “He loves sports and dance, and that’s what we’re really trying to do: make these programs intentionally inclusive.”

Positive impact

For the Mansons, the last five years have been filled with exactly what their pillars state: inclusion, community, and perseverance; however, nothing compares to the personal connections that were the catalyst of building the organization in the very beginning.

“There is nothing I love more than being in public and seeing someone I don’t know wearing our apparel,” Manson happily shares. “I introduce myself and love hearing their connection and how Welles has touched their lives.”

All proceeds from apparel purchases directly benefit programs that support inclusion. While the majority of the organization’s presence thus far has been in the LA community, it is Manson’s hope that as they continue to grow, the organization’s reach will expand throughout Maine via conversations inspired by those wearing their apparel and their social media presence shared with friends and family in support of their mission.


Better together

For many, it’s heartwarming to witness a child go out of their way to help someone with a disability because of the impact on the person with the disability—but what about the positive benefits from this same interaction on the person without the disability? This is the exact frame of mind Manson wants our communities to adopt.

“Intentional welcoming has a positive benefit and outcome for all —we can’t forget how people with differing needs and abilities impact us and make us stronger,” explains Manson. “When Welles was born, my mind immediately went to my two older sons and how having a brother with Down Syndrome would impact them—they have gained so much from having him around. It’s turned them into better people and will hopefully help shape them into patient, compassionate, loving adults.”

Manson also considers herself a recipient of these positive changes, thanks to Welles and Willa, citing patience, acceptance, and perseverance—all aligned with the characteristics her family and supporters choose to emulate through the organization’s mission and in their daily lives.

“I have a bracelet that says, ‘You make me better,’ and it’s really symbolic of my two younger kids,” Manson says. “They are the biggest challenges of my life but have shaped the person that I am.”


All is Welles (& Willa too!)