Author: Emily Denholm, ds-connex team member
Walk Profile: Grand Strand Buddy Walk®
Walk Date: Sunday, October 11, 2015
Who: Grand Strand Down Syndrome Society
Location: Grand Park at the Market Common; Myrtle Beach, SC
Walk Registration Website: www.ds-stride.org/grandstrandbuddywalk
GSDSS Website: http://grandstrandds.org/
The Grand Strand Down Syndrome Society will be hosting its 3rd Annual GSDSS Buddy Walk® at Grand Park at the Market Common on October 11th. “The walk is a friendly celebration, the kind of thing that families want to be a part of,” says GSDSS board member Gracie Williams.
The GSDSS Buddy Walk® was born when Sandra Maldonado, now the walk coordinator, and her family moved to South Carolina. Sandra, whose son Jeremiah has Down syndrome, decided to start a walk to provide support to local families and soon joined her efforts with the already existing Grand Strand Down Syndrome Society. As the number of families grew, the organization saw the need for funding to support their local programs; and with that, the first Buddy Walk® in the Myrtle Beach community was formed in 2013.
What started out as family potluck get-together of approximately 50 people has now turned into a community gathering of 300 people who come out to show their support for local individuals with Down syndrome. Participants at the walk can be sure to expect a fun-filled day for the whole family. Families traditionally arrive early on the day of the event to set up tents and tailgate.
“Everyone is very social, so participants end up meeting other families and really get to know each other,” says Sandra. “You get to see every side of Down syndrome and it becomes a really big support system.” After walkers participate in the route along the park, the entertainment begins! Participants enjoy a DJ, the Mini Stars Impersonators, face painters, balloons, bounce houses, a play center sponsored by Special Olympics and Strider bike courses.
Gracie shares that one of her favorite memories is the awards ceremony at the end of the walk. Everyone comes together and each individual is brought up on stage to receive a medal for an accomplishment that their family wants recognized. It can be anything from a milestone in therapy to a quality the family wants to highlight, like having a great smile! They are each recognized with cheers and applause and everyone is included. “Parents are so proud of their kids and adult self-advocates,” shares Gracie.
Gracie, Sandra and the GSDSS board hope to raise $15,000 at this year’s walk to continue to support local programs and opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome, all while bringing awareness to the community about Down syndrome and inclusion. GSDSS is also looking to expand its support in the Myrtle Beach area, with plans to offer a new summer program to families next year and help some families attend the National Down Syndrome Congress Conference in Orlando in 2016.
To be a part of the 2015 Grand Strand Buddy Walk®, you can register at www.ds-stride.org/grandstrandbuddywalk. To learn more about the Grand Strand Down Syndrome Society, please visit: http://grandstrandds.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.