March 26, 2021

Advocate with Down syndrome promotes employment for ‘friends like me’

Mark Hublar poses in front of a podium as he would at any of his public speaking events to advocate for employment of those with disabilities and to share the message that “we’re all different, but the same.” (Submitted photo)

Mark Hublar poses in front of a podium as he would at any of his public speaking events to advocate for employment of those with disabilities and to share the message that “we’re all different, but the same.” (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

NEW ALBANY—Mark Hublar is a people person. The fact radiates in his greeting—the friendly smile, the extended hand, the confident eye contact. And the chatter.

“There are two things you should know about me,” says Hublar, 56. “I love people, and I love to talk.”

The member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany combined those traits to develop a career he is passionate about: as a motivational speaker advocating for employment of those with disabilities.

Which leads to a third fact about him that people should know: Hublar has Down syndrome.

“He never let his disability hold him back,” says Mark’s brother and fellow parishioner, Greg Hublar. “Everything he’s accomplished is a miracle.”

Accomplishments like graduating from high school, living and supporting himself independently, earning a degree in public speaking and, with the help of his family, creating his own business called Mark Hublar Speaks.

His job has taken him around the country. He has spoken with corporate and non-profit leaders, employers and members of a congressional committee in Washington. He has met a long list of politicians, athletes and celebrities.

“I want to see my people go into communities and get real jobs with real pay, equal pay,” Mark says.

And he wants people to know that those with and without disabilities “are different, but the same.”

Mark does not take his mission lightly.

“God wants me to work for him,” he says. “God wants me to be a speaker for him.”

It’s a role made possible through faith, a loving family—and a crucial decision Mark’s parents made after his birth.

‘My prayer had been answered’

When Mark was born in 1964, his parents were told he had mongolism—the term then used for Down syndrome.

The doctor said their son would live a vegetative life. As most doctors did in such cases then, he advised them to send Mark to an institution.

Al and Linda Hublar’s response was immediate.

“We are not putting our son in an institution—we’re taking him home,” Linda recalls adamantly telling the doctor.

While they were firm in their decision, Al and Linda, both now 80 and members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, knew they would have to depend on God to make it work.

Al remembers praying: “God, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Please just allow him to have enough intelligence to know and love and serve you.”

One day years later, Mark heard his father swear.

“He said to me, ‘Dad, you know God can hear every word you say. It’s not worth it,’ ” Al recalls. “I knew then that my prayer had been answered.”

‘Just like my brothers’

The Hublars decided to raise Mark no differently than their toddler, Mike. That approach didn’t change when their other sons Greg and Todd were born four and 10 years later, respectively.

“He had his chores like us, he was expected to behave,” says Greg, 52. “There were no special passes because he had a disability.

“And we played as hard with him as we did each other,” from tackle football to wrestling to “parachuting” from a window—one of many tales shared by Greg in his recently published book, A Miracle Named Mark. (See related article: Book on life, impact of advocate with Down syndrome is story of faith, love, family)

“Because of the way we were raised, I didn’t even know he had Down syndrome until I was in fifth grade,” Greg admits.

Mark wanted to do everything his brothers did. Being “just like my brothers” became a source of motivation that drove him to graduate from high school, find work and live on his own.

In 2016, he earned a three-year degree in public speaking from Jefferson Community & Technical College in Louisville, taking public buses to learn in-person.

Linda recalls Mark saying after the graduation ceremony, “Did you ever think all four of your sons would graduate from college, Mom?”

Her eyes well with tears of pride even as she retells the story.

‘What’s a purpose?’

About 20 years prior, a series of unrelated events occurred that, in retrospect, foretold Mark’s true calling.

It began in the mid-1990s. Mark was asked to speak about having Down syndrome with a class of students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School during Disabilities Awareness Week.

“He’d never done anything like that,” says Al. “We were floored—he was a natural.”

A few years later, Mark took a job stocking shelves at a New Albany Walmart. After only three months, Mark’s boss called Al to say the job wasn’t working out—Mark spent too much time talking.

“I was only kidding when I asked him, ‘Well, can you find him a job where he gets paid to talk?’ ” Al recalls. “I was shocked when he actually said yes.”

Mark became a Walmart greeter—a stellar one. He made customers feel so special during his more than five years in the role that a local TV news station did a story on him when he had to retire for health reasons.

At one point during this time, his dad asked Mark a question: “What’s your purpose in life?”

When Mark asked, “What’s a purpose?” Al explained, “God put us all here for a reason. Why did he put you here?”

Mark simply said, “Oh,” and the conversation ended.

“About two weeks later, Mark said to me, ‘Dad, I know what my purpose is. My purpose is to help friends like me to have a full life and real jobs.’ ”

Mark had shown a natural ability for public speaking, and he clearly loved people. Now he had a purpose toward which to channel those qualities.

It would still be years before Mark’s gifts and purpose would merge to develop into his career as an advocate and public speaker.

But once they converged, Mark was on a mission to share his message: that those with disabilities and those without “may be different, but we’re the same.”

‘He has a really strong message’

Since 2012, Mark has helped with initiatives led by The Arc of Indiana. The mission on its website aligns with his: to help “all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities realize their goals of living, learning, working and fully participating in the community.”

Years before becoming co-director of Indianapolis-based Work to Include, Susan Rinne heard one of Mark’s talks.

“He was just fabulous,” she says.

When Work to Include was launched in 2018 to promote employment for Hoosiers with disabilities, Rinne remembered Mark.

“He was one of the first persons I thought about” as being a team leader in the Clarksville area, she says.

Mark was hired on a contract for the role. Rinne supports him as he leads a team in finding ways to help local people with disabilities identify their strengths. He and his team reach out to employers to share information about the benefits of hiring those with disabilities and to help them find such workers.

He is passionate about his vision for “my friends” who, like him, have some form of disability.

“I want people to listen, to give us R.O.I.: respect, opportunities and inclusion,” he says. “I want people to understand that people with disabilities can be anything they want.”

“Mark is an exceptional speaker and tells his story very well,” says Rinne. “He has a really strong message. When you meet Mark and see what he’s done with his life, you think differently about what people with disabilities can do.”

Al is a member of his son’s Work to Include team. He says after parents of children with Down syndrome hear Mark speak, “I see the reaction on their faces. They can say, ‘My son or daughter has a future.’ Families with Down syndrome kids are often told what their child can’t do, and Mark helps them look at what their child can do.”

‘God is happy with what I’m doing’

Love has everything to do with Mark’s message.

“I love everyone,” he says, listing his friends, his parents and his “three loving brothers” who “would be bored if I wasn’t born.”

His list also includes God.

“He helped me to be born,” says Mark. “He helped my mom and dad not put me in an institution. He gave me a loving family. … I don’t judge God for my Down syndrome. It doesn’t make a difference what I have. It doesn’t make a difference what other people have.”

Greg is awed by his brother’s capacity for love and forgiveness.

“It’s really astounding,” he says. “Just off the scale. He’s never not forgiving. He doesn’t hold a grudge. The depth of Mark’s love, there’s just nothing to compare it to.”

The nation has taken note of Mark and his work on behalf of those with disabilities. His website includes a long list of scholarships, awards and accolades he’s received.

Mark’s smile has loomed large as well, from Work to Include billboards in southern Indiana to the big screen in New York City’s Time’s Square, where his was one of 500 photos chosen from 3,000 worldwide submissions to appear as part of the National Down Syndrome Society’s annual video presentation in 2019.

But fame has not gone to Mark’s head. For him, it’s all part of his work to promote employment for those with disabilities and to spread his message of “different, but the same.”

“God is happy with what I’m doing,” says Mark. “He works in heaven, and I work down here.”
 

(For more information about Mark’s business or to purchase A Miracle Named Mark, go to www.markjhublarspeaks.com.)

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