Connexions Blog

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Walk Team Spotlight - Team Double D of the Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk®

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

On Saturday, October 12th, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. will celebrate its 12th Annual Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk® in Dothan, Alabama. Hoping to raise $60,000 this year, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is counting on the support from their great Buddy Walk® teams to help them reach their fundraising goal. Double D is one of those teams; they will celebrate their 10th year at the event in October. We were so pleased to have an opportunity to connect with Brandi and learn more about her team.

  Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk - key

Double D, which stands for Deese and Devine, honors Brandi Deese and Mike Devine. These best friends bowl together in the Unified Bowling League in Dothan. Brandi shared that she and Mike once had a Galaxy Bowling fundraiser for their team, and she has also placed containers in restaurants to collect change. Brandi also owns a business called Scribbling B; she colors and frames pictures and sells them at the Buddy Walk®, donating the proceeds to the event. This year, she even had a 2020 calendar made of her artwork and $1.00 from each calendar sold goes to her team. She sold out of her first order of 100 calendars within 24 hours of receiving them!


Brandi hopes that her friends and family members on Team Double D will learn more about Down syndrome and focus on her abilities. Her wish is that everyone would include individuals with Down syndrome in their activities so they can get to know them better. Brandi plans to decorate her tent at the walk with checkered flags and “have our usual boiled peanuts for our team.”  Brandi explained, “We have a good time under our tent fellowshipping with each other but the fun part is seeing all the buddies and their family members. It is like a family reunion each year.”


This year, the event will honor Hometown Heroes. Brandi enjoyed watching Top Chef this year; the winner, Kelsey B Clark, is from Dothan and owns KBC Restaurant. Brandi was selected to represent the USA at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi last year. She won a silver medal and a seventh-place ribbon in the competitions and was selected as one of three athletes to represent the USA in the closing ceremonies. She was also awarded a key to the city from the Mayor of Dothan upon her return home. Brandi and Kelsey will be featured as Hometown Heroes at the Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk® this year, and they will be featured in advertisements by their city’s Visitors Bureau soon.

  Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk - medal

The money raised at the Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk® funds several wonderful opportunities for the Down syndrome community in Dothan. Brandi shared that they have “an awesome F.R.I.E.N.D.S. support group that has monthly activities for its members, as well as grants, educational support, and new parent packages. We are so fortunate that Buddy Walk® funds go to our group and we are very fortunate that we have an awesome coordinator, Alicia Sims, who organizes the event each year. She loves all the buddies and works very hard on this yearly event.”


We are very excited to watch the progress of Team Double D this year, and we’ll be cheering on all of the great Wiregrass Area Buddy Walk® teams as they work to reach their goals! You can show your support by visiting their Stride fundraising site.


This post is part of our ongoing Walk Team Spotlight blog series, which profiles Down syndrome walk teams by sharing their unique backstories, as well as fundraising, recruitment, and networking tips. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon! Submit your story ideas to:

Walk Profile: Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks Step Up for Down Syndrome

Walk Profile: DSGO Step Up for Down Syndrome
Walk Date: Saturday, September 14, 2019
Location: High Street Baptist Church - Springfield, MO
Walk Registration Website: DSGO Step Up for Down Syndrome Website

On Saturday, September 14, the Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks will host their 2019 Step Up for Down Syndrome event. Hoping to raise $50,000, this event is DSGO’s largest awareness and fundraising event of the year. It is through the generous support from the community that the DSGO is able to extend their reach farther into the Ozarks area. We had the pleasure of learning more about the event from Jen Welton, President of the DSGO Board of Directors.

DSGO Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk

Jen has an older brother, Trent, who has Down syndrome. Trent is 52 years old and enjoys reminding Jen that he’s the boss of her. “For someone who was told they wouldn’t live past two years old, he’s doing pretty well,” she said. After attending several DSGO event, Jen knew she wanted to be more involved and the Board fit her experiences, so she joined and describes it as the ‘best decision” she’s ever made!

This year’s event is a bit different than past events, as they have changed both the date and location. Jen explained, “In the past, our Step Up event was in June surrounding one of the Springfield Cardinal home games. We weren’t able to pick a weekend that worked best for our families. A big factor in moving Step Up away from the summer is that by the end of the walk, our families were so hot that the kids just didn’t have it in them to sit through a baseball game. Moving it to the fall was a request we heard quite often, so we moved it to September. Parking among the congestion of downtown was also a common complaint we heard. We are so blessed to have High Street Baptist Church as one of our organization’s biggest fans, and they gave us their back property to host this year’s Step Up.”

This year’s event will have a carnival theme, with bounce houses, balloon characters, face painting, cotton candy, food, dancing, and ”everything you can imagine!” Jen went on to share that the “celebratory walk will be held around the church’s baseball field. There will be tons of banners, and hopefully a lot of excited teams!”

DSGO Step Up for Down Syndrome Team Sign

Jen hopes that participants in the event will walk away feeling love and “completely worn out.” She continued, “There’s nothing quite like seeing a person with Down syndrome getting some of the most amazing attention. For those who don’t have Down syndrome, I want them to see that their family members matter to our community. We are one whole!”

Jen wants new families to know that this event is a day of fun and encouragement for those supported by the DSGO. Her advice is to “relax and know you’re around other families who have walked in your shoes. We’re stepping up beside you!”

With the funds raised by the event, the DSGO will be able to increase their educational and medical outreach efforts, offer more free and reduced-cost trainings and conferences, and provide scholarships to national conferences.

Jen hopes that the community will “come learn about our organization…your mind and heart will be blown away!” The Step Up for Down Syndrome event is open to the public, and you can show your support by visiting their fundraising site at

This post is a continuation of our Down Syndrome Walk Profile series. We’ll be profiling and highlighting Down Syndrome Walks from around the country in an effort to share the stories and experiences that make Down syndrome communities so vibrant and unique. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon.

Ds-connex Presents: The Fifth Annual Summer of FUN-draising Contest!

By Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

Summer days are full of fun and adventure, and we know that team captains in the Down syndrome community are also busy hosting fundraisers for their Down syndrome fundraising teams. We love the creativity we see, year after year, as team captains work diligently to create fundraising opportunities to support the efforts of their local Down syndrome organizations.

Team fundraisers have a key role in supporting Down syndrome events. Our research reports show that 60% of top team captains host fundraisers for their teams.

How are you raising funds for your Down syndrome fundraising team? We want to hear from you!

From Monday, August 5th to Friday, August 23rd, send us a photo from one of your team fundraisers and a short description of how the event impacts your team for the chance to win one of three $100 donations to your fundraising team from ds-connex. Team fundraisers can come in all shapes and sizes, including golf outings, ice cream socials, garage sales, kickball tournaments and more. The sky is the limit, and we are excited to learn about your fundraisers!

2019 Summer of Fundraising

Photo submissions can be emailed to ds-connex at Images can be from a fundraiser for this year’s event or last year’s event. By submitting a photo, you are giving ds-connex permission to edit your submission for grammar/length, and share your submission via the Connexions blog and across multiple social platforms in order to raise awareness and appreciation of your fundraising efforts on behalf of the Down syndrome community. All submitted fundraising ideas will be shared on the ds-connex social media outlets with the goal of inspiring the Down syndrome community with creative fundraising ideas for team captains across the country. (Please note: When submitting an entry from a mobile device, please be advised that the “connex” segment of our email address may be autocorrected, preventing your entry from reaching us. If you do not receive a confirmation of your entry, please try sending it again.)

One entry will be randomly selected each Friday through August 23rd (8/9/19, 8/16/19, and 8/23/19) to win a $100 donation from ds-connex to their Down syndrome fundraising team. The winning entries will be announced each Friday at 2pm Eastern. The earlier you enter, the more chances you have to win! We can’t wait to hear all about your fundraising ideas!  

Walk Profile: DSAF Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk

Author: Chase Wagner, ds-connex intern

Walk Profile: DSAF Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk
Walk Date: October 5, 2019
Location: Antelope Park; Lincoln, Nebraska
Walk Registration Website: DSAF Step Up for Down Syndrome Website

DSAF Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk

On October 5th, the Down Syndrome Association for Families of Nebraska will celebrate its 18th annual Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk. As Lincoln, Nebraska’s premier Down syndrome awareness and education event, the walk celebrates individuals with Down syndrome, showcasing the critical role they can and do play in the community. Each year, the event brings out over 1,600 attendees to show their support of friends and loved ones with Down syndrome.

In 2002, the DSAF of Nebraska hosted its first Buddy Walk® to bring about awareness and serve as the organization’s one annual fundraiser. Mary Sweeney, Marketing and Development Director for DSAF, explained that they joined with other Down syndrome affiliate groups across the country to re-brand their annual walk in 2010. Mary says, “The Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk is our effort to include Down syndrome in the event name, along with creating a positive call-to-action for the entire community and state. It is the same event in every other way and draws participants from across Nebraska and the United States!”

DSAF Step Up for Down Syndrome Smiling

Since beginning in 2002, the event has grown from a small contingent of committed friends and family to a spectacular event bringing together 1,600 supporters ranging from parents, siblings, teachers, and medical professionals to community organizations and companies. These dedicated supporters allow DSAF to deliver on its mission to provide support and a positive vision for the future of individuals with Down syndrome and the families, friends, educators, and professionals who share in their lives.

Mary shared her favorite memory with her son Henry from a past walk, and it perfectly encapsulates the goal of all Down syndrome awareness walks. Sweeney shared, “My favorite memory was our very first walk. Henry was only a little over one at the time, and this whole world of Down syndrome was still new to us. We didn’t know what to expect. We were blown away by the fun atmosphere and amount of people out to support people just like our little guy. Tears were just streaming down my face as we walked through the balloon arch to start the walk, and cheerleaders were chanting his name. I remember thinking, ‘He’s going to be just fine. If this small corner of the world is this supportive of him, he will be just fine.’”

When asked if there would be anything new in store for this year’s event participants, Mary explained that, “We will have more fun surprises along the walk. Without giving too much away, we’ll just say it will be ‘entertaining’ as people walk the mile-long route.” We cannot wait to see the exciting things in store for everyone at the 18th annual DSAF of Nebraska Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk.

DSAF Step Up for Down Syndrome Smiling

To support the DSAF Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk, please visit their Stride fundraising site at

This post is a continuation of our Down Syndrome Walk Profile series. We’ll be profiling and highlighting Down Syndrome Walks from around the country in an effort to share the stories and experiences that make Down syndrome communities so vibrant and unique. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon.