The Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society will hold its third annual Buddy Walk on Saturday at Forsyth Park.
Four families from Chatham and Effingham counties started LDSS in 2006. The members were introduced to each other through Dr. Ben Spitalnick. The group now has approximately 120 members in 11 counties.
“I knew him when I worked at Memorial, and he knew that I had had Lainey, and got me in touch with several other families who he sees with children with Down syndrome,” said LDSS member Candy Bogardus said.
The group started meeting in April 2006 and held the first Buddy Walk that October. The group meets the fourth Tuesday of the month to give all of the families a chance to get together.
“Everybody’s at different times in their life,” Bogardus said. “I have a 3-year-old, someone else may have a newborn, someone else may have a 10-year-old. We can exchange ideas and experiences that we’ve been through, or that we’re looking forward to going through, and that’s how we started the group because there was no group. We were shocked in an area as large as we live in that we didn’t have a group.
“It was good especially for the families of newborns. They’ve embarked on this wonderful adventure, but they have no idea what they’re doing, and neither did we. My husband and I are both in the medical field, and we only knew the medical side. We didn’t know the joys of raising a child with Down syndrome was going to be. It is a joy. That’s the main point of our group is that all of the families feel like they have limitless potential, they can go as far as they want to go. There’s no stigma, there’s no, ‘Oh, they have Down syndrome, I’m very sorry.’ We don’t ever say that because we just feel blessed.”
The first Buddy Walk was started by the National Down Syndrome Society, of which the LDSS is an affiliate, in 1995. There are now approximately 300 walks throughout the country. Many are in October to coincide with Down syndrome Awareness month.
“We just wanted to start doing that because the Buddy Walk is a walk that promotes inclusion and awareness of Down syndrome, and people with Down syndrome and there wasn’t another fundraiser or any other type of festival for our kids,” Bogardus said. “That’s why we did it, and it was tough that first year getting it planned in such a short amount of time, but now we start earlier, and we can plan ahead, and we’ve just had so many people. It’s been overwhelming the people who have come out supporting us.
“The first year we expected about 500 walkers. It’s kind of an average, you’re just getting started, you’re not really well known as far as an organization. We had 1,500 walkers. Needless to say our planning was put to good use because we had a lot of people who came and enjoyed the day.”
Last year’s crowd was estimated to be 1,750, even with rain during the last hour of the event.
“It dampened a little bit of our attendance,” Bogardus said. “This year we’re hoping for good weather, and planning on another big crowd.”
Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. and includes a T-shirt and lunch, and costs $12. The walk will begin at 10:30 a.m.
“The walk is just one mile, which is one time around Forsyth Park, so it’s not an overly taxing walk,” Bogardus said. “Pets are welcome there, wheelchairs, strollers, wagons, it’s a very family friendly thing. Everyone can participate.”
From 11 a.m.-2 p.m. there is a free festival that includes live entertainment, face painting, pirates and tea with the princesses.
There is also a bake sale that benefits the LDSS and the LDSS store.
“All of our churches get together and bake for us,” Bogardus said.
She said there is no membership fee to be a member, and the group holds family events throughout the year.