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Down syndrome Buddy Walk set for Forsyth Park
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The Low Country Down Syndrome Society is preparing to hold its second annual Buddy Walk on Oct. 6 at Forsyth Park in Savannah.

The Effingham County based affiliate of the National Down Syndrome Society has a long line-up for their only fundraiser of the year.

“We have lots of good things planned,” said Candy Bogardus, secretary of the group.

Over 300 Buddy Walks will take place across the nation in October, which is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Registration for the mile-long walk is 8:30-10:15 a.m. The cost is $12 and with this comes a T-shirt and a meal of hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and a drink. The walk begins at 10:30.

“Pets and strollers are welcome,” said Bogardus, who said the event is family-friendly.

After the walk the festival will take place from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. The three-hour event will feature two stages and entertainers The Keith Gay Band, Katelyn and Amanda Tarver, local celebrity Emily Hendrix and a barbershop choir.

In addition, there will be pumpkin/face painting, a pirate booth, blow-up slides, the cast of the “Wizard of Oz,” Team Savannah, a princess booth and two kiddie trains, a bake sale, a retail store and two puppet shows. There is no charge for any of the activities. Organizations that serve those with special-needs are welcome to set up a free booth in the information section of the festival.

Last year’s Buddy Walk was a huge success with over 1,500 people attending. The group had expected about 750. This year’s goal is 2,000.

Since last year’s event, 11 new families have joined LDSS. They come from all over including Liberty, Long, Chatham, Jasper, Bryan and Bulloch counties.

Over $80,000 was raised from the Buddy Walk last year.

“We have been able to take that money and put it into parent packets,” Bogardus said.

These packets are packed with helpful information for parents with children who have Down syndrome. It is a resource that the Bogardus family didn’t have when their daughter, Lainey, was born. Instead, they like many other families had to find services and programs on their own.

The Low Country Down Syndrome Society also has larger plans for their funds.

They are trying to partner with Emory University to develop a special-needs clinic in this area where developmental services and genetics specialists will be available to families.

Right now parents have to go to either Jacksonville or Atlanta for genetic testing, according to John Bogardus, president of LDSS.

The clinic would serve more than those children with Down syndrome, added Candy Bogardus.

They also hope to hold conferences on Down syndrome in the area in the near future. The LDSS already has guest speakers who visit to discuss a variety of topics, such as estate planning and speech therapy.

Twenty-nine families make up the advocacy group. There are a lot of unknowns when parents have a child with Down syndrome, Candy Bogardus acknowledged. A lot of families simply want to learn from others. Families with younger children learn from parents of older kids about what they can expect.

“That’s one reason why the group is so nice,” she said.

The families share more than being affected by Down syndrome.

“All of our families are strong families of faith,” noted John Bogardus. His family are active members of Grace Community Church, where he serves as a deacon.

The LDSS stresses acceptance, education and inclusion. The efforts of groups like this one appear to be paying off.

Twenty years ago it was common practice to institutionalize those with Down syndrome, according to John Bogardus.

Now, mainstreaming them into society is the common goal.

Candy Bogardus hopes the walk will help others realize that just because an individual has Down syndrome it does not mean that their future is limited.

“Our children, we put no limits on them,” she said.

She also has two sons, Charlie and Mason. Her expectations of them are all the same.

The LDSS meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at either the Holiday Inn Express in Port Wentworth or the Hoskins Center at Memorial Health University Medical Center. For more information about them or the Buddy Walk, contact Candy Bogardus at 728-8505 or