Man with Down syndrome donates $1,200 in toys to Project Santa Claus
Troy Drake of Gardnerville became an Instagram favorite almost overnight this year with his contagious smile and his handcrafted Christmas ornaments.
The 29-year-old with Down syndrome has shown what anyone can do with the will to do it: He’s learned how to sculpt, he’s managed to raise more than $10,000 in 2019 and this holiday season, he’s donated more than $1,200 worth of toys to Project Santa Claus in his hometown.
“It’s kind of phenomenal what adults with Down syndrome are doing now compared to the past,” Troy’s mother, Suzanne Drake, said about her son’s efforts. “When you have a baby with Down syndrome, you automatically jump to their future. It’s a lot scarier when they’re little.”
Two years ago, Suzanne Drake and her husband Scott weren’t sure their son might be able to pick up pottery well when they decided to take classes at Ogres-Holm Studio at the Carson Mall. They brought Troy to watch initially, and Suzanne said he loved working with clay. The couple built a pottery studio in their garage. But Ogres-Holm Studio owner Jo Moore said Troy was invited to come in and begin sculpting with them, learning basic skills, creating and working with studio manager Lucas Lamont.
Troy began learning by creating small characters in clay, later moving into wheelthrowing, but his helper Lamont said he didn’t care for it, becoming easily frustrated by the process. Once he picked up on it creating realistic freeform sculpting, however, he enjoyed himself more, Lamont said. To date, he’s created a werewolf and an elephant, each taking several weeks as he comes in for an hour or two once a week.
“He likes simple colors and doesn’t like to overdo things,” Lamont said.
Troy gradually improved, soon working on family projects, and Suzanne said leftover ornaments Troy made from a Christmas project last year posted on a family Facebook page turned out to be popular. He sold an initial set of 200 ornaments within 30 minutes. Suzanne said the response was “overwhelming.”
“We sold $1,500 worth of ornaments and donated all of the money to a nonprofit organization called Ruby’s Rainbow, (which) provides college scholarships to adults with Down syndrome.”
A friend of Suzanne’s daughter who works in social media suggested that the family begin an Instagram account for Troy to feature his ornaments, though Suzanne said at first she opposed the idea.
“I’m pretty protective of Troy,” she said. “In March of 2019, we launched @TroyMadeIt. Immediately, people started asking how they could purchase Troy’s pottery. All year, Troy has been making pottery and selling it on Etsy with 100 percent of the proceeds being donated to nonprofit organizations that are making the world a better place.”
Thanks to Troy’s efforts this year, he is donating more than $10,000 in profits from his ornaments, a portion of which went to Project Santa Claus last week with the toys he donated that were purchased from Walmart.
Project Santa Claus, chaired by Gary Dove, is now in its 32nd year, and has helped more than 21,000 children and nearly 9,000 families, according to chairman Gary Dove. The effort joins with local nonprofits and agencies, including the Department of Social Services, to help families enjoy the holiday season.
When he’s not working on his pottery, Troy enjoys a number of activities with his family, who enjoy the outdoors. The Drakes travel, hike, kayak, snorkel and waterski. Troy loves it all — except for skiing, Suzanne said, since he doesn’t like the cold as much.
“There’s magic in that chromosome,” Suzanne said. “He’s just the easiest person to be around.”