Working, swimming or having fun, Craig gives it his all

News-DemocratJune 1, 2014 

Craig Dillaplain spends much of his time shattering the stereotype of what someone with Down syndrome can or can't do.

The 41-year-old cleans his own room and does his own laundry at a Belleville group home. He cooks dinner for residents once a month and takes his girlfriend out on dates.

"I do the treadmill for about 45 minutes (each day)," he said. "And then around 3:04, I take my medication, and we get ready for dinner around 5.

"Then we do house chores, like I clean the table off. Other people move the chairs, sweep the floor, mop and take out the trash."

Craig has been working at McDonald's on U.S. 50 in O'Fallon for more than 20 years. His shift is 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays.

Craig handles his own transportation, walking to the bus stop and riding a bus, a MetroLink train and another bus from Belleville to O'Fallon. It takes about an hour each way.

"He's a hard worker," said Princeton Lewis, 32, the restaurant's assistant manager. "He shows up to work on time every day, and he does whatever I ask him to do -- and more. He's always happy and energetic."

Craig's job title is prep manager. He makes salads and parfaits, bakes cookies and pies, cleans the dining room and takes out food to waiting cars.

"Customers love him," Princeton said. "He's always smiling. He acknowledges them. He carries their trays to the trash.

"(The employees) like him, too. We all help each other. We're a team here, and he's part of the team."

The restaurant will hold a fundraiser for Craig from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. A portion of proceeds will be donated to the Parent Teacher Organization for Exceptional Children, whose programs have helped him develop skills.

Craig has been invited to the Special Olympics U.S.A. Games June 14-21. He'll compete in backstroke, freestyle and relay.

"I'm a good swimmer," said Craig, who practices every Sunday and takes private lessons through YMCA Southwest Illinois. He also competes at bowling and basketball.

"He has about a million medals," said his mother, Jeanne Dillaplain, a speech and language pathologist.

She and her husband, John, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, have two other grown children, Clay Dillaplain and Libby Magee. They've always treated Craig as a capable person and allowed him to take on responsibility.

He's been living at the 16-bed group home, Belle Manor, since he graduated from Belleville East in 1993.

Craig's half of a shared room reflects his personality, with a St. Louis Cardinals throw on the twin bed, posters of Lamborghinis on the wall and a big box of CDs on a shelf.

"I like country -- and a little bit of everything," he said. "My favorite singer is Shania Twain. She's a good singer."

Staff members supervise Craig in the kitchen, but he creates his own menu. One of his specialties is a rice dish with mushroom soup and meatballs.

"He's very good," said evening cook Susie Nicholson, 66. "I just stay in here to make sure he doesn't burn himself or anything."

Craig is free to leave the premises and do his own thing, shopping or going to ballgames or restaurants with friends or family.

His girlfriend, Allyson Lintz, 43, lives in the female wing of the home. They've been dating 13 years.

Craig cooks special meals for her. Sometimes, they go out for movies or ice cream.

"He lets us know what he's doing, and he has a cellphone for emergencies," said Resident Service Director Donna Takmajian, 49. "He still needs some guidance, but he's very independent."

Craig never leaves home on Monday nights. He's glued to the TV set for World Wrestling Entertainment's "WWE Raw" show.

One night a month, his father stops by for poker night with the men of the house.

(Craig is) very thoughtful, very personable," Donna said. "He gets along with everybody. I've had staff take him to the movies on their days off, just because they like his company."

Craig has been involved in Special Olympics since 1986. His mother is a board member for the PROEC, which sponsors sports teams and other activities.

Craig qualified for the national competition in Lawrenceville, N.J., by winning gold medals in the 100-meter backstroke last year at state and the 25-meter breaststroke this year at regionals.

He will travel to New Jersey with other Illinois athletes, not his parents, a manifestation of their dream for him.

"Our goal is for him to be as independent as possible," his mother said. "To do what he wants to do, to accomplish what he wants to accomplish and just be a responsible member of the community."

At a glance

What: Craig Dillaplain fundraiser

Where: McDonald's, 109 E. Highway 50, O'Fallon

When: 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday

Cost: 20 percent of proceeds of food purchases will be donated to the Parent Teacher Organization for Exceptional Children

Information: 618-632-8358

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