Nicolle Santos looked up at a Times Square billboard and couldn’t contain her joy as a familiar face smiled back at her.
Sure enough, it was Nicolle’s own smile among the sea of flashing lights in the iconic section of Midtown Manhattan. A photo of Nicolle looking at herself on the billboard showed her unmistakable elation and warmed the hearts of those whose lives she brightens on a daily basis.
“She is my inspiration,” said her mother, Mell Santos, of Kearny. “She was super happy and excited.”
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Nicolle was one of 500 people with Down syndrome to be featured on the billboard, according to the National Down Syndrome Society, who coordinates the annual slide show ahead of Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October.
Even at 7 years old, Nicole is no stranger to the bright lights. She was in a commercial for big-name toy company Fisher-Price a few years ago and this is her fourth time on the billboard, Santos said.
When she is not being featured in Times Square, Nicolle is usually showcasing a big smile to everyone she meets, albeit that the mandated restrictions due to COVID-19 has put a temporary halt to that — at least in person.
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Before the coronavirus outbreak, Nicolle would routinely pass on her contagious positive spirit to those at Washington School in Kearny, where she is known for her thoughtfulness.
“She lights up the whole building,” Jon Zimmerman, the school’s principal said.
Nicolle didn’t let virtual schooling stop her from being her usual kind self, Zimmerman said. When Nicolle found out it was Zimmerman’s birthday, she took the time to make a virtual happy birthday message to send to him.
“She’s an amazing little girl,” Zimmerman said.
Nicolle continues to inspire Santos, who says that she started a group for parents who also have children with Down syndrome after having Nicolle. Even at her young age, Nicolle continues to be a bright spot for her peers and even her family; all with her trademark smile.
“I’m just so proud,” her mother said.
Anthony Zurita is a breaking news reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all the major news happening in North Jersey, subscribe here. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.
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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: ‘Inspiring’ Kearny student featured on Times Square billboard for National Down Syndrome Society