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Annual Buddy Walk aims to raise awareness first, funds second

Date: 8/4/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD - The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) created 17 "Buddy Walks" in 1995 to spread the word about the condition. The word has caught on to over 250,000 people who participate in 275 Buddy Walks across the nation.

This fall, the fifth annual Buddy Walk will take place at Stanley Park to benefit the Down Syndrome Resource Group of Western Massachusetts. The organization provides various resources for those with the disease as well as their families.

"In these difficult economic times, we are receiving more and more requests for assistance and we understand that everyone's business has been impacted as well," Tom Flaherty, Buddy Walk Coordinator, said. "But we do appreciate any support that walkers and corporate businesses can offer as the annual Buddy Walk will help all people with Down syndrome take steps to a brighter tomorrow!"

According to NDSS, "Down syndrome occurs when an individual has three, rather than two, copies of the 21st chromosome," causing cognitive delays.

Tanya Wheeler, president of the Down Syndrome Resource Group of Western Massachusetts, said the Buddy Walk is first and foremost a vehicle for community awareness - the fundraising component is secondary.

She noted that her organization provides annual professional and parent/guardian training sessions on various topics such as sexuality or mental development. Additional services include the "First Call" team, a quarterly newsletter, a family picnic and other activities for those with Down syndrome.

Wheeler explained that the "First Call" team provides a package of information and other materials for parents of those just diagnosed. She added that additional seminars for parents include educational advocacy and human rights laws in order for them to better understand how to obtain services for their children.

"People with Down's are more alike than different [from those without the condition]," Wheeler said, adding that she wants to make sure that people with the condition have the same opportunities as all others.

The fifth annual Buddy Walk will take place on Oct. 24 at 10 a.m.

For additional information about the event or for sponsorship opportunities, call the Down Syndrome Resource Group of Western Massachusetts at 562-7395 or e-mail Wheeler at