Buddy Walk takes to Trumbull

Mary Mort, left, of Lisbon, poses with Cinderella, also known as Allison Grusha of Mineral Ridge, prior to the Buddy Walk at Eastwood Field Sunday. Grusha works for Castle on the Cloud of Newton Falls. Tribune Chronicle / Guy Vogrin

NILES — More than 2,500 people walked inside and outside Eastwood Field Sunday in support of someone with Down syndrome.

The Buddy Walk, sponsored by the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley, made its first appearance in Trumbull County, according to event activity coordinator Sandee Timmerman.

“The Eastwood Field people were nice enough to offer us this facility and we have a beautiful day for it,” said Timmerman of Austintown, who, along with her husband, Bill, has adopted four children with special needs. “There are lots of emotions that go into raising a child with special needs and this organization is here to help a parent navigate through the system.”

Timmerman said the outside track could not hold all the people walking, so organizers had to reroute part of the half-mile course into the parking lots.

Debbie Williams of Canfield, the lone staff member for the organization, said this is the 10th year for the event. Previous walks were in Boardman.

“This facility has worked out well, everything is positive with the move,” Williams said. “The larger area has increased the attendance and the hot weather didn’t stop people from supporting their buddies.”

Williams said 46 teams of walkers registered for the walk but more than that showed up. Previously, the event was held in August. But Williams said this year’s September date worked out since it’s closer to October’s Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Helping entertain the walkers were Youngstown State University cheerleaders and people dressed as superheroes and Disney characters, courtesy of Castle on the Cloud of Newton Falls.

Timmerman said she was responsible for three activity tents set up in the outfield, where parents were able to take their special needs children and learn about some of the help available.

All the money raised at the event stays to help local families, Timmerman said. The 2017 walk totals were not finalized. However, Timmerman said so far about $100,000 had been raised from Sunday’s event.

The Buddy Walks started nationally in 1995 in 17 cities. Dr. Ken Jones and his wife, Michelle, who started the Mahoning Valley organization, launched the first local walk in 2008 in the northwest corner of the Shops at Boardman Park.

On Sunday, manning a table were probate judges James Fredericka of Trumbull County and Robert N. Rusu Jr. of Mahoning County, who answered questions about the steps to apply for guardianship once a child turns 18.

Justin Jones, 16, of Howland, has walked all 10 years of the event in support of his 13-year-old sister Lauren.

Jones said Lauren, who has Down syndrome, has showed him how to become a better person.

“She has taught me all about inclusion and what love is really all about,” he said.