A smile, a message and a Hawaiian shirt: Young CEO raising awareness for Down syndrome

Chicago's Very Own

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.  It is a time to celebrate the abilities and attributes of the thousands of humans born each year with the chromosomal condition.

For some the condition is hard to comprehend and many times misunderstood. But this month, those with down, are hoping everyone will celebrate their uniqueness. 

And unique is the perfect adjective to describe the young man Nate Simon. 

Chicagoa, Special Olympic gold medalist and now he’s a CEO of his own company.

WGN News met Nate eight years ago when he was just 10-years-old. His mother Holly Simon said she got the idea for her company “I Am Who I Am” when Nate was born.

“The nurses and doctors actually said they were sorry, for Nate’s birth. They were sorry that I birthed a child with Down syndrome,” she said. “I think it took me a couple of minutes but then I decided that mother in me was going to prove all of them wrong. And I’m going to prove them wrong on a large scale.

Since then interview, Nate has grown, physically of course, but also emotionally. He’s compassionate, thoughtful and his heart is as full as they come.  

The Simons have always treated each of their children equally. 

“All five kids of mine has been raised the same.  They can all reach for the stars,” Holly said.

That upbringing has allowed Nate to be himself and develop his own unique personality.  

“I just felt like a new man, a new gangster in town,” he said. “I felt a new heart in my heart.”

And like most teens his age, Nate is obsessed with social media. He and his sister Lindsey spend a lot of time posting on TikTok. 

It’s his quirkiness and self confidence, that caught the eye of the celebrity social media influencer known as Officer Daniels. 

“I fell in love with Nate for whatever reason, he just cracked me up,” he said. “The chemistry he has with his sister and his mom. I’ve been fortunate enough to become friend with them.”   

Officer Daniels has over 600,000 followers on Instagram alone. And besides his funny posts, he uses his celebrity social media platform to be an advocate for Down syndrome. His 42-year-old sister Heather also has the genetic disorder.

Nate and Officer Daniels soon developed a virtual friendship.  And over the past year, they became a sort of internet sensation getting thousands of likes for their funny posts.  

Daniels, who lives in Denver, thought it was time to meet his sidekick face to face.   In September, he and Nate’s sister set up a surprise meeting at Nate’s high school graduation. 

Nate now attends occupational school, he’ll be there until he’s 22.  But after that, like many kids with Down syndrome, there’s not a lot of opportunities for them.

“A lot of kids don’t know what to do. They don’t have jobs. They don’t have resources. Their parents both work,” Holly Simon said. “And I’ve always had dreamed of starting a business for all our children.”

“Nate loves Hawaiian shirts, that’s all he wears,” Daniels said. “And people always compliment him in his videos on the internet. So like why can’t he have his own shirt company?  And we were like ‘Yea, let’s do it.’ So we ran with it.”

And that’s when the 21 Pineapples Shirt Company was born. 

“Pineapples represent welcoming and I also I love the crown that the pineapple wears,” Holly said. “We all deserve to wear a crown.”

 The website introduces a new shirt every month. The goal is to put a 21 Pineapples​ brick and mortar store in each state. 

Nate Simon is one of Chicago’s Very Own. 

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