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Buddy Walk set for Sunday morning

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been in the news a lot lately for becoming the vice president nominee on the Republican ticket, but on the minds of some mothers is one question: How is she going to raise a child with Down syndrome if she is elected this November?

Renee Kerr, co-founder of Down Syndrome Network Oregon and instrumental in organizing the local Buddy Walk efforts, is glad the topic is taking the spotlight and hopes that if elected she really becomes an advocate for children with special needs.

Palin gave birth to Trig only just this April, and West Linn resident Sara Szwarc is encouraged that she did not terminate the pregnancy. Statistics show that 80 to 90 percent of women who have a prenatal diagnosis for a child with Down syndrome will terminate.

The political opinions of DSNP are broad and varied, but one thing is sure: Members hope the spotlight will increase awareness and support for people with Down syndrome.

It should be a good year for the Buddy Walk, a national event that takes place in Lake Oswego this Sunday, Sept. 21. The event started in Lake Oswego six years ago with about 70 people and raised $300, said Kerr. This year she expects the event to draw around 600 to 700 people and raise $30,000.

Though Palin has brought recent attention to the issue of children with Down syndrome, Lake Oswego is welcoming another well-known face to lead the way for its Buddy Walk. Chris Burke, a 43-year-old actor best known for his role in the television series 'Life Goes On' will be the grand marshal. Burke, who has Down syndrome, will also play with his band.

'It's a pretty big deal for us to get him,' said Kerr. Burke is a spokesman for the National Down Syndrome Congress.

'This is a community event that is great for families with young children who have Down syndrome. Especially when your children are young, you're looking for a lot of support, and your friends are looking for ways to support you,' said Kerr, who has an 11-year-old son named Eli with Down syndrome. 'As we get further down the road, we adjust to our lifestyle.'

The event draws families from all over the metro area looking for support.

'We started out just wanting to have it in our community and it's grown,' said Kerr, who said she's met families from as far away as Camas and Washougal.

'It's funny how the word kind of passes around,' said Kerr. 'Whenever we hear of a family who just had a baby with Down syndrome, we call them. We have a basket of hope that we provide along with prayer and support to that family.'

Currently the DSNO has around 150 members on the mailing list. Locally, the money raised goes to support scholarships for families to attend national conventions on Down syndrome and local programs such as Lake Oswego Soccer Club's Challenger team, which has kids with unique challenges.

Nationally, the Buddy Walk program is supported by the National Down Syndrome Society. Most Buddy Walks take place from September through November, to recognize Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October.

According to the DSNO, the Buddy Walk has three primary goals: 'To promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome; to raise funds locally and nationally for education, research and advocacy programs; and to enhance the position of the Down syndrome community, enabling us to positively influence local and national policy and practice.'

The event starts at 10:30 a.m. at Millennium Plaza Park. Registration is $15 for an individual, $30 for a couple or $45 for a family. It includes a raffle ticket, lunch and a Buddy Walk T-shirt. To register for the Buddy Walk or to learn more information about Down Syndrome Oregon, go to www.dsnor.org .