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Florida model with down syndrome inspires special needs community after being in TV commercials

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Posted at 3:24 PM, Mar 31, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The smile, the incredibly kind eyes, and the enthusiasm — it’s what makes 18-year-old Ethan Holt a natural in front of the camera.

“I love being on camera and it’s a lot of fun, I do the work I listen to everybody,” he said.

His mom, Phoy Halt says from the time he was young Ethan was into entertainment and after a trip to New York with the family he had a premonition.

We went to New York and I was like saying, Mom! Dad! I’m famous!” he said. “You know, now my dreams have come true. I’m famous now!”

His modeling career was created from humble beginnings when his mom said the non-profit Help Us Gather was giving away free headshots.

“I said they’re giving a free headshot and you can wear anything you want,” she said. “So he picks out his three-piece suit, and I’m like are you gonna wear that?”

The three-piece suit looked dapper but it was Ethan who impressed the photographers. So much so that Surf Style, a Clearwater business hired him for their ad campaign. And now he’s known nationwide.

He’s featured swimming in an AdventHealth commercial and in a new Walmart commercial.

“It’s a huge step for people with disabilities to have that representation on a national scale, to see somebody that looks like themselves,” said Tyler Baynard, an ESE teacher at Northeast High School. “We’re just so proud of Ethan and being kind of an advocate for the inclusion that we are special needs teachers fight for every day.”

His teachers and principal beam with pride.

“You should see him at a swim meet, he’s getting the cheers going, he often engages the other teams into dance-off for their dancing against Ethan and it’s absolutely amazing,” said Principal Mike Hernandez.

“We don’t have enough people including individuals with disabilities into our mainstream America and seeing that Walmart commercial I was like yes that’s what we need, we need more of that!” said Scott Peterson, an ESE teacher at Ethan’s school.

That love brought Ethan to tears.

“I’ve got no words, I’m happy and I want to thank you, everybody,” he said, wiping his eyes.

He will be featured next in an ACH Healthcare internal employee video.

This story was first published by Heather Leigh at WFTS.