Buddy Walk Connects Those with Down Syndrome and Their Supporters

The Down Syndrome Association of Santa Barbara County hosts its 4th Annual Buddy Walk in Chase Palm Park on Saturday, June 15, 2013, 11 am – 4 pm. It will be a day of guaranteed family fun, community building, and fundraising.


BuddyWalkDSASBC

The DSASBC is a subgroup of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, co-founded by Melissa Fitch, the Santa Barbara Buddy Walk Coordinator. The group is completely parent and volunteer run, and provides a variety of resources to those with Down syndrome in Santa Barbara. This year’s walk will be DSASBC’s fourth, but the DSALA is celebrating its 18th Annual Buddy Walk.

Fitch recalls taking her son, who has Down syndrome, to his first walk in Los Angeles about four years ago. She says that the look on his face, upon seeing other children that looked exactly like him, was absolutely incredible. Her passion, which stems from the immense love of her son, is evident in her voice during our discussion of the association and the Buddy Walk.

“It brings more community awareness to people with Down syndrome,” Fitch states. “It has united various families. I have people call me, with newborns, who want to come and have never been to the event. It’s just great.”

The walk and the association are completely local, volunteer-run efforts. Volunteers include friends of Fitch, community members, and from time to time, dedicated college students. Jennifer Feeney, a senior at UC Santa Barbara, attended the walk last year and is now the coordinator of the Next Chapter Book Club, one of the many programs provided by DSASBC.

Feeney’s contribution has been as meaningful for her as for the children she works with. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with an amazing teen who happens to have Down syndrome, and have learned even more about helping others and becoming an advocate for the special needs population. I am happy to say that I’m pursuing my Masters in Special Education at UCSB next year and hopefully will learn about even more ways to become involved! I’m so excited to find my passion in life, and even more enthused that participating in events such as the Buddy Walk have helped me realize that passion.”

The donations from the walk will be used towards programs, such as the Next Chapter Book Club, special guest speakers and other programs that the association offers to those with Down syndrome in the Santa Barbara community. “We’re raising the money to foster inclusion in the community. We do events that bring people of all different needs and abilities together.”

Regarding the details of the event, Fitch explains “It’s just a big party in the park, that is also a fundraiser.” The day’s activities include a 15-20 minute ceremonial group walk across the park, live entertainment, and family activities, including face painting, carnival games, and a kid’s workshop hosted by Home Depot. Jamie Geston is rumored to perform, and there will be some special guest appearances from other local artists.

Admission is $25 for adults and $10 for children, and includes lunch and all activities in the park. Fitch says that the goal of the walk is to raise money, but also to provide families and children with affordable food and fun. “I want it to be easy for the kids to enjoy themselves.” This is what the walk is all about; having fun, in an inclusive environment, while bringing awareness to Down syndrome in Santa Barbara.

Fitch explains, “I love the looks on the kids faces when they enter the park and see there is so much to do, and when I see families that I’ve only spoken with on the phone and then get to meet their families. I’m looking forward to having a lot more people there, different people. Even if you don’t have a person you know that has Down syndrome, or don’t know anyone, it is just a fun community party in the park.”

Those interested in walking individually or as a team, or in donating to the cause, can visit
buddywalk.kintera.org
.

More information about the DSASBC and the Buddy Walk can be found
here.

For more information about the DSALA, visit their
website.

Megan Gibbs

Megan is a senior at UCSB studying Communication and Spanish. When she's not in class or working at the Alumni Association, she is often performing with her a cappella group, baking cupcakes, or soaking up the sun on the beautiful beaches of Isla Vista!
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