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Buddy Walk takes a drive

Participants see superheroes, others at event

Staff photo / Bob Coupland Lauren Jones, 16, of Howland, center, joins Superman (Anthony Scarmack), left, and Belle (Mia Hammerton) from “Beauty and the Beast,” right, as they wave to parade participants at the Buddy Walk Drive-Thru for Down Syndrome on Sunday at the Eastwood Field parking lot in Niles. Instead of a walk, the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley held a drive-thru event.

NILES — They couldn’t walk around Eastwood Field like they usually do, but participants this year at the annual Buddy Walk hosted by the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley took a different approach to the event by riding around the parking lot in decorated vehicles.

As cars, trucks and vans drove around the parking lot, those in the Down syndrome community waved to superheroes, cheerleaders, tennis teams, firefighters, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and, of course, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers mascot, Scrappy, who were along the parade route.

Addison Griggy of Boardman waved to those along the parade route as her parents, grandparents and friends all rode on a decorated float.

“We are all happy to still be celebrating today,” said Ray Griggy, cheering Addison on as she waved.

Serafina Lamping, 15 months, sat on her mother Melanie’s lap as they drove along the parade route.

“We are having a blast. This the second year we have been here,” Melanie Lamping of Struthers said.

Serafina looked at the many Disney characters and superheroes waving to her from the sides of the parade route.

Lauren Jones, 16, of Howland, joined Superman and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” as they waved to parade participants traveling around the parking lot.

Jones said her favorite part of the event was taking part in the dance off. She said she also liked waving to people from the Jeep.

Michele Jones of Howland, president of the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley and co-founder of the organization, said 1,000 people were registered for the more-than-one-hour event, with more than 100 cars traveling through the parking lot.

She said this is the 13th year for the Buddy Walk at Eastwood Field and the first time it has ever been adjusted.

“This has always been a big event for us. We have some years had 2,500 people here who walk around the field. We decided to still celebrate our members with the drive-thru. We wanted to do something to celebrate our members despite the pandemic to make them feel special. We are working through the pandemic,” she said.

She said the National Buddy Walk was started in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society and raises awareness of Down syndrome. October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and the Buddy Walk has become the largest celebration of the society.

Jones said the event originally started locally at Boardman Park before moving to Eastwood Field for a larger venue.

“We knew this year we had to switch gears because of the pandemic. We wanted to celebrate our families today who enjoy getting together. This lets them know we are still thinking about them,” she said.

“They were the stars of the event. All of our families were the stars.”

Jones said she had no doubts the Buddy Walk was going to happen for the thousand people who registered, even if they couldn’t actually walk together.

“We talked to other groups across the country, and we knew we were going to do something to celebrate our families,” Jones said.

DSAV is committed to providing individuals with Down syndrome and their families the resources needed to lead successful, productive lives.

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