Photo provided
Jennifer Sell of Noblesville (from left) --  with the support of her husband, Kerry, and their three daughters, Nora, 14, Jessica, 18, and Emily 21 -- has started a nonprofit called Same as U, that will help their middle daughter, as well as others with disabilities, to have a fuller life after graduation from high school.
Photo provided Jennifer Sell of Noblesville (from left) -- with the support of her husband, Kerry, and their three daughters, Nora, 14, Jessica, 18, and Emily 21 -- has started a nonprofit called Same as U, that will help their middle daughter, as well as others with disabilities, to have a fuller life after graduation from high school.
Just weeks before Jennifer Sell gave birth to her middle daughter, she and her husband, Kerry, learned that their baby would be born with Down syndrome.
“I was scared to death and thought, ‘Why me? Why us?’” 
Jennifer was worried about the negative effect on Emily, their older daughter, who was 3. “I thought about people staring at us when we were out in public,” she said.
Then the mom gave birth to 5-½-pound, 19-¼-inch Jessica Elizabeth Sell, on Jan. 31, 2001. 
“The second she was born, I fell in love,” said Jennifer Sell, whose daughter, Jessica, is now 18 and a senior at Noblesville High School, trying to figure out what’s next in life. 
Jennifer has worked the past four years to answer that question. Her solution is the creation of a new not-for-profit called Same As U. 
The organization, which received nonprofit status in April and got its website up in September, will provide full-day programming for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a “college” atmosphere.
Life experiences, discernment, being a parent and knowing what she wants for her child have all helped in creating Same as U.
“God laid this on my heart almost four years ago,” Jennifer said. “All along, I have prayed that if this was the plan God had for me, He would keep showing me the next steps, and He has been faithful to do that. It’s been hard work, but I have been blown away by the people that keep coming forward to help at just the right time and with just what I need.”
Her idea for the nonprofit came about because, she said, “I wanted to create a place where people with developmental disabilities could come and continue learning while having a whole lot of fun.”
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities hovers around 76 percent, she said. “Many of this population find themselves at home alone for too many hours during the week.”
Same As U will be “a place where participants will feel love and accepted as they develop a strong sense of community and self-worth.” 
Same As U will be based at White River Christian Church in Noblesville. The organization is raising its first-year budget before opening its doors in the first quarter of 2020 and is accepting donations from individual donors as well as businesses through the website at www.sameasu.org/ and by mail at Same As U, 1685 N. 10th St., Noblesville, IN 46060.
“This will be a new concept for Hamilton County,” Jennifer said. “We aren’t coming in trying to replace programs or jobs. We want our participants to be employed and participate in life to its fullest.”
She envisions Same As U to partner with individuals and businesses and offer elective classes in music, art, sports and more. Jennifer is the nonprofit’s executive director of her team that already includes program director and lead teacher Sara MacGregor of Fishers, who has a daughter with a developmental disability, and board members, Phil Clark, Reba Cooper, Jim Gilster and Chip Jaggers, who all want Same as U to succeed.
Jennifer (Jones) Sell, who grew up in Noblesville and is a graduate of Noblesville High School and Indiana University, where she met her husband, stayed home with their three children for a time, then was on staff at Northview Church for six years, with a year off to renovate her 100-plus-year-old house in Old Town Noblesville. She spent more than a year on staff at Joy’s House to learn the in’s and out’s of a nonprofit. What started as a meeting to pick the brain of the Joy’s House founder turned into a job offer on the development team.
Jennifer said it gives her goosebumps to think that the nonprofit that started as an idea is now moving full-steam ahead.
She looks looks back at the early years of when Jessica was born and Emily was only 3.
Worries about what people would think quickly subsided. “Those things seemed to fade,” she said.
Her elder daughter became a loving older sister. “Emily was so young, she didn’t see Down syndrome. She just saw her little sister. Sometimes, she adored her, and sometimes Jessica annoyed the heck out of her.”
Then, four years later, along came their third and youngest daughter, Nora.
“Nora entered the scene and never knew life without her two big sisters,” the mom said. “It just became our normal.”
She said, “I think we were a pretty typical family living out those preschool years.”
The early years were hard but not because they were raising a child with Down syndrome. Raising toddlers is just overall challenging anyway. 
Nora, was colic, and Jessica went into the hospital for almost two weeks when Nora was only 10 weeks old.  There were challenges with all three daughters but different challenges for her middle daughter with disabilities.
Through the years, they’ve tried to maximize Jessica’s time with general education students. “As she got older and the gap widened, we had to be realistic and make choices that best served her,” Jennifer said. 
Jessica participates in as much as possible with general ed students. That includes singing in the Noblesville High School Momentum Choir. “She loves choir and has an incredible teacher (in Kelsey Maxwell),” Jennifer said. Jessica has taken cooking classes, art classes and drawing classes. She swims on the NHS swim team and runs in the district’s Unified Track and Field program, an Indiana High School Athletic Association sport that combines people with intellectual disabilities (traditional Special Olympics athletes) and students without disabilities on sports teams for training and competition. Jessica’s core academic classes are taught in a functional academics classroom, which teaches students skills to succeed in real-life situations at home, school, work and in the community.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year reported that approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, making Down syndrome the most common chromosomal condition. About 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year.
The entire Sell family has been affected positively by having Jessica as their daughter and sister.
Today, Jessica’s older sister, Emily Sell is 21. She graduated in December 2016 from NHS, is a junior at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and went through a year training to be a Young Life Capernaum leader to high school kids with disabilities. Nora Sell is 14, a NHS freshman, sings in NHS Sensations choir and is a GraceWorks volunteer buddy at church, helping kids with disabilities. Their dad, Jennifer’s husband, Kerry, is one of the founding members of Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome (DADS), which now has 66 chapters in 36 states and three countries.
Jennifer said the name for their nonprofit came to her one afternoon at a Unified Track & Field meet when Jessica was getting ready to run a relay. “She was holding the baton and chatting with a teammate who did not have a disability. The word ‘same’ hit me on the head like a 2-by-4. Although some of Jessica’s life experiences will look differently than that of my other two daughters, she wants a full life,” Jennifer said. 
Jessica Sell will walk through graduation ceremonies on June 6, 2020. “Let me tell you, she talks about it all the time. She has every last detail planned and will celebrate big time,” her mom said.
Jessica is allowed to continue at Noblesville Schools through age 22, and receive support from the district’s Special Education Department.
“I always thought she would, but I don’t see that happening,” the mom said. “I have a feeling she will be wanting to move on.”
Jennifer and Kerry will make those decisions “with lots of prayer and discernment on what we feel will be best for her. My sense is she will continue next year for one more year, either in Project Work or Limitless  programs (at NHS). After that, I fully intend on her having a job, attending Same As U and participating in other opportunities that might be a good fit for her.”
Jennifer now looks back nearly 19 years ago, when little did she know that God would have a crafty plan for her and show her the way after giving birth to a daughter with Down syndrome. 
Today, Jennifer said, “Rarely do I notice  people staring. Sometimes, I will catch someone, but it honestly doesn’t bother me.”
The loving wife and mother, and now nonprofit executive director, said, “I know the gift we have been given.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.