When those familiar with Williams Syndrome (WS), a rare genetic condition that affects the cardiovascular system and causes developmental and learning delays, find out the Willer family of Lansing have two teens with it, they can’t believe it. Typically, the condition is so scarce that only one child in a family has it; the Willer family is different in that Cheryl and Jim adopted Jeremiah and Abby, both 15 years old.
“We would do it all over again in a heartbeat,” Cheryl Willer said when talking about if agencies would ask them to take more kids with WS.
If you met Jeremiah and Abby, or anyone with WS, you would understand why. Those with the condition have a tendency to be highly social and friendly along with a large vocabulary and a natural talent for music.
Because Jeremiah and Abby are in the same family and have such unique stories, Phil Viardo, President of Former Prodigy Media asked the Willers to be part of the Truelove documentary. The Truelove documentary focuses on Callie Truelove (yes, that’s her real last name) who also has WS and was featured on a YouTube video from Special Books by Special Kids.
“We fell in love with her. We felt something extremely special with this project,” Viardo said.
He said they were just starting filming when COVID hit, which put everything on pause. They received the green light and the necessary funding to restart in March 2021. Viardo said he handpicked the crew because he wanted people who were dedicated to the cause. This is in part because they filmed around 10 families all over the United States over the course of two and a half weeks in April 2021, which meant a lot of 12-14 hour days.
He worked with the Williams Syndrome Association (WSA) for the film and they suggested a couple of different families, the Willers included. Of those families, the Willers stood out to him.
“They’re saintly. The kids are amazing, the family is awesome,” Viardo said.
Jim and Cheryl are proud, loving parents who couldn’t believe it when the WSA notified them of the film and were even more surprised when Viardo contacted them about having the kids in it. They said they haven’t seen it yet, but they are excited for it.
Viardo said the film should be released in summer 2022 and the families will have an opportunity to hold a special viewing of the documentary with their family and friends.
“It shows how beautifully created they are and the challenges they face,” Cheryl said.
Those with WS don’t have a fear of strangers—they would go with anybody anywhere, and they have little sense of privacy. The Willers said they always have to have eyes on Jeremiah and Abby. In addition, regular life skills take awhile to learn along with academic setbacks and distinctive facial features.
Cheryl said they feel it’s important to hold their kids accountable despite their diagnosis. They work with those who are in the kids’ lives to treat them this way as well. They keep their expectations high but alter them as needed, seeking to strike a balance. Despite all the challenges they face, the kids are incredibly positive and have so much to give to others.
“They are the most loving people in the world, one ray of sunshine that brightens up everything,” Cheryl said.
The Willers described them as kids who love unconditionally, inspire camaraderie, are constantly grateful, quick with forgiveness, people-pleasing and have personalities that others gravitate toward.
“They can walk into a room and everyone is their best friend,” Jim said.
This is exactly what happened when the film crew came to Lansing.
“It was like being the center of everything. It was like the whole world was looking at us […] and then people were cheering us on, whistling. And we marched happily together and it was just an incredible time,” Jeremiah said.
The kids loved meeting Callie and the Truelove family along with the whole crew, they said it felt like another, extended family. They spent a lot of time on the bus hanging out, feeling like movie stars.
Abby loved being on the bus, especially when she got to do a makeover. When asked how she felt about filming, she said she was “happy, but sad, nervous and excited.” She liked it when the camera crew was just filming them doing routine activities and interacting with others and making new friends.
The Willers all expressed their love for the crew and the Trueloves, and how much they’re looking forward to seeing their “family” again.
Jeremiah and Abby both said they feel like celebrities now. That’s the one phrase they repeat over and over when asked about the experience.
“I’m going to be famous.”