CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- "This is inclusion. This is community. This is love."
The words of a proud Chesterfield father.
Proud of his daughter, who just won a silver medal at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
And proud of his community.
One that has grown up around his child with Down syndrome and allowed her to flourish.
Taylor Carpenter, 8, has been dancing most of her life, her father Michael said.
But when she competed at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria last week, it was her first time dancing at a Special Olympic event.
She won the silver medal.
"The Special Olympics was a phenomenal experience," Michael Carpenter said. "Just to see all the different countries and the welcoming attitudes. Everyone was so loving to Taylor. Everyone was clapping [after she won] and taking a picture."
When Taylor and her little sister returned to Grange Hall Elementary School in Chesterfield on Monday, her parents were told to call ahead so her third grade class could set-up a pizza party for the returning champion.
But when Taylor arrived at school and the principal opened the door, the family learned the entire school had lined the halls. What followed were claps, cheers, and hugs.
"Words cannot express the feeling, the love, the joy, the pride, the friendship displayed and represented in the video that represents part of Taylor's school welcoming her home... celebrating her accomplishment, her journey, and most importantly her," Michael said. "We always felt supported at Grange Hall, but we never knew the level of community that they truly had until that moment."He said Taylor loved the surprise and was happy to see her classmates and friends again.
"As a parent of a child with special needs, you appreciate everything and you want them to succeed," Michael said. "But it's amazing when you see other children who have such love, community and friendship with your children."
"Grange Hall is a community whose vision is to learn, grow, and lead by focusing on what’s best for our kids," principal Courtney Jones said. "It was an amazing experience to witness the love, the joy, and the pride, that our students and teachers displayed. Taylor pours her heart into building friendships with her peers, teachers, and staff at Grange Hall. It was an honor to celebrate her accomplishments as a school community."