Connexions Blog

"Building stronger communities by sharing inspiration, advice, and best practices that work".

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.

Walk Team Spotlight - Riley's Rockstars of the DSACF Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk

Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member

On Saturday, October 19th, the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida will celebrate its 21st Annual Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk at Lake Eola Park in Orlando, FL. Leading the group of teams helping the DSACF work toward their $200,000 fundraising goal is Riley’s Rockstars, steered by team captain Jennifer Belcher. We had the pleasure of learning more about Riley and DSACF’s event from Jenn as her family prepares for their celebration in October.

DSACF Step Up - Riley Riley is an energetic, curious toddler with a joyous personality. She loves adventures with her family, and she was named a 2019 Ambassador for Nothing Down as well as a ds-connex Champion. Her parents are tireless advocates in their community, and when they learned about the Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk, they knew they had to participate. They named their team “Riley’s Rockstars” because “in our eyes, she is a rock star and we just wanted to be rock stars with her,” Jenn shared. This year will mark their 3rd appearance at the event, and it will be an exciting one because “Riley is finally able to walk across the finish line on her own!” What a moment that will be! We’ll definitely be watching for videos of that milestone on Riley’s Facebook and Instagram!

To build their team for the walk, Riley’s family simply invites participants to register via their Facebook page. They also talk with people around their town to inform them of the event, and invite their co-workers. “We usually get a pretty good-sized team!” This year, Jenn would like to raise $3,000 and they are already halfway to their goal! “For the first time, we did a Spirit Night at a local restaurant and raised a good amount! We also get donations from friends and family. We have shirts made and that money goes to the team. My cousin makes handmade soaps and this year she made a Riley’s Rockstars soap and all proceeds go to our team! We also have a motorcycle club who donates to our team every year!”

  As active as Riley’s Rockstars are with fundraising, though, their most successful tactic so far has been leveraging Facebook to garner donations. “I post in all of the local word-of-mouth Facebook pages in our area and people donate,” Jenn explained. “Riley is becoming famous in our little town!”

Columbus Buddy Walk - Ella's Hope Jenn hopes that their teammates “see how amazing individuals with Down syndrome are. Everyone on our team has always said they had such a fun time at the walk. I think meeting families and being around people who are differently-abled shows them that we really are more alike than different.”

This will be the 21st Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk for DSACF, and the Belcher family is very excited to celebrate! “This is my favorite event of the year! I love how our community comes together to make this a great day for our kids. I love meeting new families and connecting with people,” Jenn shared.

For more information about the 21st Annual DSACF Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk, to register for Riley’s team, or to make a donation, please visit their fundraising page here.

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:

Andrew's Root Beer Float Stand

Andrew's Root Beer Float Stand

Author: Chase Wagner, ds-connex intern

Our motto at ds-connex is “Empowering Down Syndrome Communities”. Through my work with ds-connex, I have found that these four words are the pinnacle of our organization’s efforts and motives, but they fall short in capturing the passion and personal nature behind what we do and why we do it.

As an intern at ds-connex, I have had the pleasure of assisting dozens of Down syndrome advocacy and awareness groups nationwide in raising funds for their efforts by customizing event websites in our unique Stride platform. Knowing that each site I update and each email I send is working to improve and expand the capabilities of these organizations through increased funding is gratifying, but one of my most gratifying experiences happened just a few weeks ago.

Recently, I had the pleasure of planning, organizing, and finally executing a fundraiser called “Andrew’s Root Beer Float Stand” in our office building. Named after the fifth-grade son of my co-worker, Jen, who helped make, deliver, and excitedly add whipped cream and cherries to the floats, this event raised over $400 in just two hours for Team Alex at the 2019 Columbus Buddy Walk, benefiting the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio. I had an awesome time working with Andrew, a co-captain of Team Alex, and the ds-connex team including Jen, Dana, Amanda, Jena, and Emily throughout the process. It was great to see all the work we put in finally pay-off in a successful event, but it was even better knowing the larger goal we were working toward during those two hours on June 19th.

Alex, whom the team is named after, is the fifteen-year-old son of Jen and Andrew’s older brother. Alex is a rising high school freshman, a soccer player, a Buckeye fan, a track runner, a chicken fry lover, a basketball player, a dog lover, and my favorite, a game show fanatic. Alex just so happens to also have Down syndrome, but that is the least of what defines the amazing young adult that he is. It is for this reason that Team Alex exists and why the team's many fundraising efforts, including the root beer float stand, are so important. Team Alex raises funds and advocates for inclusion so that infants, toddlers, teenagers, and adults like Alex are supported and recognized for the amazing individuals they are rather than the extra 21st chromosome they possess.

I am glad to know Alex and his family, and I am thankful for the opportunity I have been given at ds-connex to be passionate and personal in the work we do to empower Down syndrome communities. Our motto might be just four words, but the passionate and personal nature by which we follow that motto makes all the difference.

Please help us build upon our efforts at “Andrew’s Root Beer Float Stand” by paying a visit to Alex’s Team Page. There you can find some awesome pictures of Alex and his family and can even donate to his team. With your help, we can ensure individuals like Alex have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Thank you to all those in the Community Corporate Center who generously supported us on June 19th and those who continue to support Team Alex through online donations. Lastly, thank you especially to Emily Leatherman for her amazing help with this event and to the entire ds-connex team for their tireless and inspirational work in passionately and personally empowering Down syndrome communities.