By Mika Hartman
October is quickly approaching, and for moms like me, that means it’s almost “Buddy Walk’ season. The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) kicks off every year with a walk in New York City; this is the original location of NDSS’s Buddy Walk and it began in 1995. The Buddy Walk program was established to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. Since 1995, it has been the premier advocacy event for Down syndrome in the United States.
The reason behind NDSS celebrating early, in September, is to be the “green flag”, if you will, for all the fun that October has in store for our families. Not only is October the time you will be able to participate in walks around your areas, it is also Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Over 300 walks take place across our country. Go to ndss.org to learn more about the Buddy Walk and NDSS’s Times Square Video Presentation. Be sure to rock your Yellow and Blue all of October, too.
Buddy Walk’s are designed for EVERYONE! This walk isn’t a competition, or a race, it is a way to put the spotlight on the ones we love who were born with an extra chromosome. You can walk at your own pace and, honestly, just showing up means the world to our families. It is a day of celebration and laugher, it is a day that brings joy and hope, and it is a day filled with love.
South Mississippi (Gulf Coast): GULF COAST DOWN SYNDROME SOCIETY’s BUDDY WALK is October 21st. The GCDSS’s walk will be held at the Gulfport Sportsplex starting at 11am. This is the 23rd annual Buddy Walk for the Gulf Coast nonprofit. Please go to gcdss.org and click on “Buddy Walk” for more information. Join any team, everyone is welcome.
Central Mississippi (Jackson and surrounding area): CENTRAL MISSISSIPPI DOWN SYNDROME SOCIETY’s BUDDY WALK will be October 14th. Their event will take place at Trustmark Park in Pearl. You can learn more by visiting cmdss.org. Their “Big Top” theme will be super fun, I know they would love for you to join in the fun.
North Mississippi (Oxford and surrounding area): 21 UNITED OF MISSISSIPPI will be hosting their Buddy Walk on October 22 in Oxford. This will be the 9th walk held in North Mississippi. You can find more information about this walk on ds-stride.org or by going to 21 United’s Facebook page. The walk will take place from 2pm-4pm at the Pavilion @ Armory in Oxford.
As you can see, there are many ways for you to join in and support your community. Our loved ones with Down syndrome are deserving of a special day like this; one where they feel the love they give all year round.
Another way to join in on the fun: Watch the Times Square Video on September 9th, starting at 8:30 Central. You can join the NDSS Facebook Live and see the presentation in real time. A few EXTRA sweet faces from Mississippi will be on the Big Screen. You’ll be thankful you tuned in. However, if you can be there in person, I promise it will be a forever favorite memory. It is indescribable with the purest joy.
MEET EASTON! Easton Fuller. Age 1. Easton and his family lives in Lawrence County, Mississippi. Mom says, “We are so excited to continue to spread awareness and show everyone how truly amazing our kids are and a diagnosis does not define him.” So happy for you all… EXTRA Happy!
Andi Sisk. Age 4. Andi and her family are from Madison, MS. Mom says, “We are SO excited for her to be part of this amazing opportunity to show the true beauty of Down syndrome. We know she is beautiful inside and out and want everyone to experience the immense joy she exudes. I will be going up to NYC to see her face in Times Square in person! We cannot wait!”
We will be cheering EXTRA loud for you, Andi! From participating, to making a donation of any size, becoming a sponsor or just simply showing up for our children, you are making a difference. We make the day easy for you and all you have to do is come celebrate with us, by us, I mean the ones that are being celebrated… the real superheroes. Find out ways to be in the know of what’s going on in your Down syndrome community. Join Facebook pages, sign up for newsletters, help with “Call to Action” alerts to move needed law changes, and be a friend.
One last ask: Please check out Camp Kamassa; It is the wonderful camp for children with all different disabilities being built right here in Mississippi. The organization is called “Mississippi’s Toughest Kids” and Camp Kamassa truly is a one of a kind camp for children like Hudson. They have literally thought of everything and deserve the recognition for the years it has taken to build this safe and beautiful campground. The details, with children like my son, in every consideration, through this entire project is breathtaking. It is still under construction, but you can tour it now. Opening 2024 with mountains of wonderful memories ahead. We are beside ourselves with glee for a camp like this.
You can be a part of many extra steps for Down syndrome. Take extra steps for Buddy Walk; participation in your area or joining any team and walking anywhere. Taking an extra step by watching the Times Square Presentation on Sep. 9th. Also, Camp Kamassa is 326 acres, that will certainly get you some extra steps in. I daily take extra steps to make sure I encourage, advocate and cheer for so many I love with Down syndrome; having you walk alongside us is progress, no excuses, just family and friends encouraging more steps… EXTRA steps, extra big ones!
My family just hosted Buddy Cruise Night at the Biloxi Shuckers. What a beautiful night under the MGM Park lights. Our first pitch was thrown out by GCDSS’s Self-advocate Patrick McIlwain and our National Anthem was sang by Pass Christian’s Luke Putnam. Luke is our friend with autism. From the EXTRA special jerseys (I helped design to represent our special kiddos) that were worn by the Shuckers, to Buddy the ship and Gadget our clown, we had the best time. A big thanks to The Biloxi Shuckers, Buddy Cruise and everyone who came out in the stifling hot weather to be a part of this EXTRA special game. My heart is EXTRA full.