ESCANABA - This Saturday, walkers will have an opportunity to raise money and awareness for people with Down syndrome during the Buddy Walk sponsored by the Upper Peninsula Down Syndrome Association.
This year marks the UPDSA's third Buddy Walk and the first walk to be held in Escanaba. Registration for the event will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Escanaba High School gymnasium, and the one-mile awareness walk will begin at 1 p.m.
The cost for registration is $15 per person over the age of 15, $10 for children ages 4 to 14, and children under the age of 3 are free. Team registrations are also available at a rate of $75 for a team of six and $10 for each additional person.
"There's 48 people on my team," laughed Cindy Vader, co-treasurer and secretary of the UPDSA, adding that she hoped to make it a team of 50.
While anyone who registers is able to participate in the walk, walking is not required.
"You don't have to walk. You can just sit on the sidelines and cheer us on," said Vader.
Other activities, including bounce houses for children, face painting, and lunch are free for registered participants. Poopeck the clown will be on site making balloon animals, and attendees can participate in bucket raffles, a silent auction, and 50/50 drawings.
The majority of the money raised will be used by the UPDSA to promote awareness, support, and inclusion for people with Down syndrome and their families. One of the ways the group offers this support is by providing educational baskets with DVDs, books, and other materials to new parents or expecting parents who have a child with Down syndrome.
"I'm glad I found out at the time when I was pregnant, because I was able to educate myself," said Vader, whose 2-year-old son, Jacob, has Down syndrome. She said having current and accurate information is important for new parents.
In addition to the baskets and other events to promote awareness, the UPDSA holds meetings to provide support for parents and family members of people with Down syndrome on the second Saturday of every month at Positively! The Center for Success in Escanaba from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
"We are the only support group in the U.P. for Down syndrome," said Vader, noting that the group tries to visit different areas to service the whole U.P.
Seven percent of the money raised by the Buddy Walk will be sent to the National Down Syndrome Society, which first created the Buddy Walk in 1995 to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome and to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October. Seventeen walks took place across the United States in the first year.
"We're just local," said Vader of the UPDSA. "We're serving the community, but the NDSS can advocate at the higher level - the federal and state level."
More than 275 Buddy Walks are planned worldwide this year. In 2012, more than $11.7 million was raised nationwide through the walks to benefit the national advocacy initiatives of NDSS and local programs
Vader noted that Down syndrome is not rare. One out of 691 babies born in the United States has Down syndrome and over 400,000 people in the U.S. live with the condition caused by having an extra copy of the 21 chromosome in their DNA.
"You never know, one day you might have someone in your family or someone that you work with might have a child with Down syndrome," said Vader.
More information about the Buddy Walk and the UPDSA can be found on the groups Facebook page, www.facebook.com/UPDSA, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling Vader at 786-2681 or Lourie Schuenke at 233-1482. Anyone interested in making a donation to the UPDSA can send a check to the Upper Peninsula Down Syndrome Association, P.O. Box 843, Escanaba, MI 49829.