WARREN - For the fifth year in a row, Putting Downs First has teamed up with the National Down Syndrome Society to organize the Buddy Walk in Perkins Park downtown.
The National Down Syndrome Society established the Buddy Walk in 1995 to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October and to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome, according to its website.
"We hold the Buddy Walk every year for advocacy, awareness and education, and to celebrate those individuals touched by Down syndrome and all their accomplishments," said Cara Meadows, Putting Downs First executive director.
Tribune Chronicle / Dan Pompili
Anna Wojciak, 9, of Howland, center, walks with Madison Johnson, 10, left, and Brianna Womer, 9, both of Niles, at the fifth annual Buddy Walk in Warren’s Perkins Park on Saturday.
"It's all about giving back, for those who need it," added Putting Downs First board member Rob Maruna.
This year's Buddy Walk opened at 2 p.m. at the playground with Warren Mayor Michael O'Brien reading the proclamation to dedicate Sept. 17, 2011, as Down Syndrome Buddy Walk Day. Following that, nearly 800 friends and family members walked the one-mile loop around Perkins Park alongside 50 to 60 loved ones with Down syndrome.
Meadows said two groups, Damon's Gang and The Dylanators, each named for a child with Down syndrome, brought approximately 100 supporters apiece, the largest groups at this year's event. Supporters, Putting Downs First members and volunteers came from all over northeast Ohio and from as far away as Texas.
"It's getting bigger and bigger every year, and most of this comes from sponsors and volunteers who support us financially and through in-kind donations," said Putting Downs First President Paulette Eisenbraun. All sponsors received plaques at a ceremony held in the afternoon.
Following the walk, guests were treated to food, refreshments and a wide variety of activities, including face- and hair-painting, performances by the Fairhaven Cheerleaders, Fairhaven Drum Circle as well as Taylor Tae Kwon Do School. There also were games and prizes, and the guests of honor all received trophies.
This year also offered new attractions like a dunk tank and petting zoo.
The event was set up around a handicapped-accessible playground that Putting Downs First helped to erect in Perkins Park.
"It's so children of all abilities can interact," Maruna said of the playground.
Twenty-five percent of proceeds from the event go to the National Down Syndrome Society, while another 25 percent go toward next year's local Buddy Walk. The other 50 percent contributes to advocacy and awareness programs and information.
Maruna said, though, that the event is not as much about raising money as it is about appreciating the walk.
"It is a moment with somebody who is just like us, only with a different outlook on life," he said.
The national Buddy Walk takes place Saturday in New York City.