By Daniel Dearing, Staff Writer
Over five thousand individuals came out to Forsyth Park on Oct. 4 to join the Ninth-Annual Buddy Walk.
The event was organized by the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society. Their mission is to encourage acceptance and inclusion of people with Down Syndrome and to positively influence local and national policy and practice.
Past Buddy Walk events have raised millions of dollars to benefit education, research, and advocacy initiatives nationally. The event has been rising popularity and attendance, and this year was no different.
The inaugural walk nine years ago boasted 992 sign-ups, a miniscule figure when compared to this year’s 5000 crowd count.
The real story here isn’t in the inflation of attendees or the growth of the event as a whole. While the numbers may be impressive, the importance of this day is emphasized on the face of each and every walker: this is much more than just a stroll through the park, it’s a message that those with Down Syndrome don’t have to fight the laborious battle alone.
Sidney Palmer, a local to Savannah and mother to a child with down syndrome had just finished the mile when she stated, “This walk just means so much to everyone in the community. Sometimes, as a parent, you just feel so alone in the fight…and this event supplies a safe haven not only for the children, but for the parents as well. It’s just a comforting atmosphere overall.”
Atmosphere is an essential aspect of the Buddy Walk. The festival following the walk offered a wide variety of carnival-esque games, live entertainment and food.
“We just want the children to feel comfortable. That’s the most important part,” Palmer said. “When Allen (my son) is having a good time that smile of his can light up a room. When you place a child in an environment that is full of silliness and fun, it’s so much easier to break down those walls and see the beautiful soul he/she has. So Allen and I just love the festival. It’s one of the highlights of our year.”
Packed smack-dab in the middle of the festival are multiple rows of information booths, each supplying its own vat of knowledge. While many breeze past these stands in search of face painters or bouncy houses, the data they supply acts as the nucleus of the event.
“We aren’t just here to walk around a park and eat cotton candy. This is about awareness,” Alice Joyner, a volunteer for the event said. “We want to make sure that the men, women, and children that leave here today do so having learned something. These kids may have Downs Syndrome, but that doesn’t make them any different from you or I. They’re brilliant, and too many people are quick to write them off. That’s what I’m here for…to help spread the word.”
Joyner doesn’t have a child with down syndrome, but she volunteers regularly. Joyner said, “Until you have an opportunity to sit and spend time with these kids you have no idea how wonderful they truly are. People often give me praise for volunteering, but what they don’t understand is that it’s light-years away from actual work. These children brighten up my day…they’re beautiful inside and out. It’s about time people realized that.”