Buddy Walk pro­motes in­clu­sion, sup­port for local Down syndrome com­mu­nity

Buddy Walk pro­motes in­clu­sion, sup­port for local Down syndrome com­mu­nity

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By SARA NEWMAN snew­man@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @in­dy_­com­mu­nity

Ad­vo­cacy and sup­port are the main goals for a yearly walk that gathered par­ents, chil­dren and friends last week­end to praise mile­stones and achieve­ments of their own.

The Buddy Walk be­gan as an ef­fort sprouted from the South­ern Mary­land Down Syndrome As­so­ci­a­tion in 2006. Na­tion­ally, the Buddy Walk was es­tab­lished in 1995 by the Na­tional Down Syndrome So­ci­ety to cel­e­brate Down Syndrome Aware­ness Month in Oc­to­ber and pro­mote ac­cep­tance and in­clu­sion of peo­ple with Down syndrome.

This year’s local walk took place Sun­day, Oct. 3 at Gil­bert Run Park in Char­lotte Hall. About 200 peo­ple at­tended the event — a mix­ture of new families and long­time as­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers.

Colleen Mor­rill, South­ern Mary­land Down Syndrome As­so­ci­a­tion board mem­ber, said it is the par­tic­i­pa­tion from new families that makes her smile.

“It helps raise aware­ness that we’re here and for new families com­ing to the area, they can have a point of con­tact and con­nect with some­one,” Mor­rill said. “When your child is first di­ag­nosed with Down syndrome, you’re thrown into a whirl­wind and there are so many emo­tions and you think you’re the only one… a lot of par­ents have a fear about the un­known and with Down syndrome they fear their child will not have the life they en­vi­sioned. They will have a good life, it just won’t be what you ex­pected.”

Funds raised from the walk go to­ward sum­mer camp schol­ar­ships and var­i­ous events and ac­tiv­i­ties the group funds, in­clud­ing in­door swim­ming, bowl­ing, go­ing to base­ball games and the Fall Fes­ti­val com­ing up later this month.

Jes­sica Dixon said she and her hus­band Andy found the group soon af­ter their son, Aaron, was born. The Buddy Walk was their first big event.

“We didn’t know Aaron would have Down syndrome when he was born so it was a sur­prise and we wanted to find a group to get in­volved with to find par­ents with sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences and cel­e­brate those mile­stones with their kids,” Dixon, of Wal­dorf, said.

Dixon said soon af­ter she joined the group she met a fam­ily with a daugh­ter the same age as Aaron and they’ve been friends ever since. In ad­di­tion to mak­ing friends, she said she’s learned about Down syndrome in a way she never thought she would have be­fore. As a teacher at Dr. Thomas L. Hig­don Ele­men­tary School, Dixon said she knew about the con­di­tion “but didn’t really know any­thing.”

“It’s kind of a shock to your sys­tem. You don’t expect your kid to have any­thing wrong, you just want them to be per­fect,” Dixon said. “And he is per­fect, just not in the way I ex­pected.”

Dixon said be­ing able to in­ter­act with families she doesn’t see in her day-to­day life, shar­ing sto­ries and ad­vice, talk­ing about strug­gles and cel­e­brat­ing the chil­drens’ achieve­ments year af­ter year is re­ward­ing.

Maria Hen­neck, of Wal­dorf, agreed.

“I en­joy talk­ing with the other par­ents be­cause we share in­for­ma­tion and help each other. You get a lot of help talk­ing with other par­ents who have chil­dren that go through the same strug­gles as yours,” Hen­neck said.

Hen­neck said mis­con­cep­tions about the syndrome are preva­lent in so­ci­ety and she hopes through events like the walk that aware­ness will be raised.

“A lot of peo­ple have no idea,” Hen­neck said. “Oth­ers see chil­dren with Down syndrome as a bur­den and they don’t know what to do around them. They’re scared of them. We like to spread aware­ness be­cause it’s com­pletely the op­po­site. These chil­dren are ca­pa­ble of ev­ery­thing that other chil­dren are and they are such lov­ing chil­dren and worth tak­ing the time out to pay at­ten­tion to.”

Several high school stu­dents vol­un­teered with the walk this year, which will help lessen that “fear of the un­known” in the fu­ture.

“It al­lows them to see what it’s like to have a child with Down syndrome be­cause they will be the next gen­er­a­tion hav­ing kids,” Mor­rill said. “It’s so im­por­tant for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to see what it’s like to have a child with Down syndrome. We’re still liv­ing and go­ing out and hav­ing fun and so are our kids. They’re just like ev­ery­one else.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTOS

Jes­sica Dixon and her hus­band, Andy, joined the South­ern Mary­land Down Syndrome As­so­ci­a­tion Buddy Walk with their son, Aaron, last Sun­day. The yearly walk is the group’s largest fundraiser and ac­tiv­ity that brings families to­gether from the area.

Maria Hen­neck, hus­band Keith, and daugh­ter Si­enna, 9, par­tic­i­pated in the South­ern Mary­land Down Syndrome As­so­ci­a­tion Buddy Walk last Sun­day at Gil­bert Run Park in Char­lotte Hall. The yearly walk is the group’s largest fundraiser and ac­tiv­ity that brings families to­gether from the area.

The South­ern Mary­land Down Syndrome As­so­ci­a­tion Buddy Walk took place last Sun­day at Gil­bert Run Park in Char­lotte Hall. The yearly walk is the group’s largest fundraiser and ac­tiv­ity that brings families to­gether from the area.

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