Lake Oswego's annual 'Buddy Walk' draws about 700 participants
With an exuberant send-off chant of 'Go buddies!,' a pack of kids and parents in blue T-shirts streamed into downtown Lake Oswego Sunday to promote Down syndrome awareness and acceptance.
The annual 'Buddy Walk' drew about 700 registrants to Millennium Plaza Park, including 35 families from across Oregon that have children with Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that can slow child development.
Each year, the Down Syndrome Network of Oregon hosts the three-block walk, which features live entertainment, raffles, guest speakers and a post-walk lunch provided by the Lake Oswego Lions Club.
Similar events are held across the United States throughout October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
'I thought it was the best one yet, in terms of organization,' said Buddy Walk organizer Renee Kerr.
The local walk raised about $20,000 - double its goal - which will be used to fund scholarships, sending families to Down syndrome conferences and specialized workshops.
Most of all, the walk helps promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome and enhances their position in the local community.
Dozens of 'buddies' sported handmade tags that displayed a photo of a child with Down syndrome as a means of support.
'It's a great community draw,' said Seattle resident Ralph Fascitelli, who participated in the walk. 'It takes events like this to elevate the issue and get people to stop and pay attention.'
Several families from various towns - Hillsboro to Seaside - met at the walk and were able to share their personal experiences with Down syndrome.
'That's what makes me feel really good, when I can connect people with other people,' said Kerr, whose son Eli has Down syndrome. 'It's about celebrating our children, and the new parents are really searching for support. We share our woes and triumphs together.'
Jim and Vivian Brink of Milwaukie attend the Buddy Walk each year with their 7-year-old daughter, Faustina, who has Down syndrome.
Supportive events, such as the Buddy Walk, are crucial to parents who seek to understand their child's condition and needs, they said.
'It's easy to enter the dark side and pull away from your child, rather than embrace them,' Vivian said.
The Brinks, however, choose to count their blessings every day.
'We look at (Faustina) as our help from heaven,' Vivian said. 'She gives us a perception on life we used to take for granted. She's a reminder of how God loves us.'