Author: Madison White, ds-connex team member
Walk Profile: 2016 Down Syndrome Festival and 5k
Walk Date: Saturday, October 1, 2016
Who: Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma
Location: Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark; Oklahoma City, OK
Walk Registration Website: www.dsfestivaland5k.com
Organization Website: http://www.dsaco.org
The Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma (DSACO) will hold its annual Down Syndrome Festival and 5k on Saturday, October 1, 2016. It’s an exciting and unique event that takes place in downtown Oklahoma City in the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. We had the opportunity to speak with Jill Harrison, executive director of DSACO, to learn more about the event, which has become a staple for the local community.
Over the past five years, Jill has played many roles with DSACO and the Festival & 5k, including volunteer, co-chair, and chair, until she became the executive director in 2015. “It is truly a family organization,” says Jill of DSACO. “It is a homegrown organization founded by local parents and it has kept that welcoming, family feel.” Jill’s favorite part of the event is seeing thousands of people coming together in one place with complete love and acceptance for people with Down syndrome. She once saw a young lady holding up a sign that read, “We love someone with Down syndrome” a memorable moment that captured the loving and proud spirit of the event.
Some main attractions of the Down Syndrome Festival and 5k include the 5k itself, as well as the festival inside the ballpark, which has raffles, face painting, bounce houses and games. Also in attendance are local vendors, therapy dogs, and special characters. Other activities include Toddler Town, a craft area, an area for teens and adults, and even an area with philharmonic instruments to explore. The part of the day attendees are most excited for is the awareness walk. It may only be a small piece of the day, but it is the most impactful. Families create signs and t-shirts and walk straight through downtown Oklahoma City. Not only is this a great opportunity for awareness, but it also gives families a chance to proudly show off their loved one with Down syndrome.
Besides being a time of togetherness and awareness, the Down Syndrome Festival and 5k is also important to DSACO fundraising. According to Jill, “The DS Festival and 5k is our largest fundraiser of the year;” this is reflected in the 2016 fundraising goal of $165,000. All of the funds raised will stay in the area and benefit the local community. The funds support services such as prenatal diagnosis, the First Connections program, free tutoring for school-aged children, medical outreach, parent workshops, self-advocacy workshops, cooking classes and other social opportunities. Jill notes that, “The more we raise at the event, the more we can turn around and provide for the children.”
Over the years, the walk has changed and grown. It began with just 10 families in a park and this year 6000 participants are expected in the heart of OKC. What has not changed is the general feeling of the event. The kids are still kids and DSACO continues to be family oriented and supportive. Jill would like for the walk to continue to grow and include even more families, especially because the walk is such a fun and great way to meet new people. To new parents of children with Down syndrome, she encourages participation. “You don’t have to do anything but show up. Don’t be intimidated. You’ll see a lot of families just being families, kids just being kids.”
To show your support for DSACO and the 2016 Down Syndrome Festival and 5k, please visit their fundraising site at www.dsfestivaland5k.com. To learn more about DSACO, please visit http://www.dsaco.org.
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.