Growing up in Winston-Salem, Jay Callahan had the spirit of community-building instilled in him at a young age. The son of architect Rence Callahan, Jay saw first-hand how the city could be reimagined and later thrive as a result.
“My dad’s dream of revitalizing downtown Winston-Salem has been a huge part of my life, and seeing such a vibrant downtown now helps motivate me to continue his tradition of making Winston-Salem a better place to be,” he says.
But instead of following in his father’s architectural footsteps, Jay found his own way to change the fabric of Winston-Salem. He served for many years as the head soccer coach at Salem College, elevating the program to one of the most competitive in its division. But off the field, he longed to do more to help others in the city he loved.
That’s how the Man Van was born.
In 2017, Jay began driving his family’s van during off hours for Uber as a project to get to know people in his city and write about them in his blog.
“I was at a point in my career where I felt the need to give back to the community,” he says. “The Man Van was a way for me to give back as much as possible. I was able to raise awareness and funding for organizations that I felt were very important to the fabric of what makes Winston-Salem such a great place to live.”
That project grew to a charitable endeavor; Jay raised funds for local nonprofits through the money he made driving the Man Van and chronicling it online. It was during that time that he began to connect with the Piedmont Down Syndrome Support Network (PDSSN), a group whose mission is to ensure individuals with Down syndrome in the Piedmont are given the opportunity to pursue fulfilling lives. In 2018 he joined the organization (which later rebranded as the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Winston-Salem) full-time as its executive director.
Being able to support those with Down syndrome and their families helps Callahan fulfill the sense of purpose he’s felt since childhood, to leave this world a little better than he found it.
“I feel like our country is so divisive these days,” he says. “Through social media and the news, you see so much negativity. I want to use my small platform as a way to brighten people’s days. I was raised in a very caring family, so I guess it’s in my DNA. The main reason I want to give back is to teach my children that giving to your community is one of the most important things you can do in life.
For more information about the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Winston-Salem, visit dsagws.org.