On Sunday, September 28th, over 450 people turned out for a day of family fun at the 14th Annual Buddy Walk at Payson Park in Portland. The 5th Annual Buddy Walk at Capitol Park in Augusta was held simultaneously, with a turnout of around 130 walkers.
Both walks were sponsored by the Maine Down Syndrome Network, a network of families, professionals and community members in Maine dedicated to promoting awareness and acceptance of people with Down syndrome. The network offers support, education, and advocacy to members and communities.
Although the event is a fundraising walk, the money raising aspect is only part of the goal said Windham resident Jen Greslick, president of the Maine Down Syndrome Network. “It’s a little different than the average walk,” she said. The Buddy Walk, established in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society is also about celebrating Down Syndrome Awareness Month, which is October, as well as promoting acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.
This year’s walks in Maine have raised close to $25,000 to date, according to Gleslick. Since fundraising pages are kept open until December, more donations are anticipated. Seven percent of the funds raised goes to the National Down Syndrome Society to support their programs. The remaining funds raised stay in Maine, to support the Maine Down Syndrome Network in their activities.
These activities include sponsoring the Buddy Walk each year, an annual conference in November, new parent packets of information and support for families, monthly outings, like a trip to Bradbury Mountain in October, Mom’s night out and programs for fathers through their D.A.D.S.(Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome) program
Windham has a large representation in the Maine Down Syndrome Network, and almost half of the board is currently from Windham, said Greslick. When her daughter, now 16, was born with Down Syndrome there was little support available, requiring them to hunt for information and resources on their own. When the Maine Down Syndrome Network began, Greslick said she wasn’t sure about joining a support group, but she gave it a try and discovered that it was a lot of fun. She and her husband slowly became more involved, and both now serve on the board. Greslick has been president for close to ten years.
The top fundraising team for the Buddy Walk was the O’Brion family, also from Windham. Roberta O’Brion said that the walk brings awareness to the community about people with Down syndrome, and shows that they are just like everyone else. O’Brion has been receiving support from the Maine Down Syndrome Network since before her son, Zachary, was born. “The Maine Down Syndrome Network has been a great support group for us,” she said.
Jen Mains, secretary of the board, is another Windham resident involved with the network. She said the Maine Down Syndrome Network is a great resource in the state. “It doesn’t matter what you’re going through,” she said “There’s always somebody to call.” She said the organization gives people a place to go and be among friends without having to worry about anything. Being involved can also show parents with younger children what having an older child with Down syndrome is like, and that “life is going to be okay,” she said. She has been involved for six years, and got involved on the board in order to help plan events.
Anyone interested in more information, or in joining the network should visit the website http://www.dsmaine.org for more information.
Photo Credit -- Mackenzie Robert Photography