Buddy Walk marks 7 years in Warren

WARREN – Those responsible for putting together the 2013 Buddy Walk wanted to convey a message of education and inclusion.

For the seventh consecutive year, Perkins Park played host Saturday to the Buddy Walk, which is a one-mile walk to raise awareness for children and adults with Down syndrome. The event also included a “kids zone” featuring games and activities for kids, a live deejay, face painting and a Chinese auction.

Liberty resident Cheryl Armstrong and her children were among the crowd, hoping to educate people about Down syndrome. Armstrong has adopted seven special-needs children.

“It’s really great that you can have such a wonderful support system,” Armstrong said. “People on the outside are sometimes afraid, but I think it’s just a matter of not understanding and not being educated when it comes to people with disabilities. That’s what we try to do.”

The Buddy Walk was developed by the National Down Syndrome Society in 1995 to celebrate October, which is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Since the walk came to Warren in 2007, event organizer Marilyn Lee said it has grown by leaps and bounds. Despite the heavy rain during the morning and early afternoon, Lee said about 1,100 people took part in the 2013 walk.

“Our first year, we probably only had around 100 walkers,” Lee said. “Now, our largest single team has 250 walkers.”

Lee is a board member with Putting Downs First, a nonprofit organization created to further education about Down syndrome.

According to Lee, this year’s primary sponsor was Moose Lodge 516, which donated $5,480. There were about 50 sponsors overall.

Winona Herrmann represented the Moose Lodge 516 at the event.

“It’s important to see the smiles on all the kids’ faces,” Herrmann said. “It makes me happy to see these kids who can achieve so much.”

Nationally, the Buddy Walk raised more than $11 million last year. That money benefits local and national programs and services.

Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosonal disorder, affecting more than 400,000 people in the United States. One in every 691 babies is born with Down syndrome, according to Putting Downs First.

Along with educating those unfamiliar with Down syndrome, Lee said the annual Buddy Walk provides parents of children with the condition a chance to become part of a larger community.

“It’s extremely crucial to know there are others who are going through the same kind of thing that you are,” Lee said. “You are able to meet with other people, so if you have any questions, those people have been through it before and can help you.”