• 63°

Fifth annual Buddy Walk to take place Sunday

Those looking for a family-friendly outing this weekend are in luck.

The fifth-annual Buddy Walk, an event to raise awareness for Down syndrome, will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Old Armory Pavilion.

While Buddy Walks are held all over the country in October to mark Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Oxford’s Buddy Walk proceeds will go to support 21 United, a local advocacy group for families with members diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“We started (the Buddy Walk) to bring the Down syndrome community in the immediate area together,” 21 United co-founder Scott Thompson said. “But it’s one thing to raise awareness but most everybody you run into either knows someone or knows of someone with Down syndrome. It’s not as hidden away as it used to be, it’s more and more prevalent. So we are doing what we can to raise awareness but more than anything we want to promote inclusion.

We feel like individuals with Down syndrome are just like everyone else. There are more likenesses than differences, and instead of focusing on the differences we want to focus on how much we are all alike and we want them to be included in everything.”

Oxford’s Buddy Walk began in 2014 with an event at Bailey Branch Park, a location that Thompson said brought concern as he felt many in the area weren’t aware of.

“We set a fundraising goal (in 2014) that was really, really aggressive. We thought ‘let’s try and raise $7,000’ and we thought ‘there is no way we will do this, but let’s set it as our goal,’ Thompson said. “That first year we had 600 participants and raised well over $30,000.”

For each successive year, the Buddy Walk has grown with more and more participants signing up for the walk and more money raised. The walk is the biggest event that 21 United holds every year, Thompson said, with its success, the money raised has allowed the organization to host a two-day summer camp for families with special needs at Camp Hopewell. For the 2018 camp, all families who attended were able to participate for no out-of-pocket cost, thanks to funds raised through the event.

21 United also hosts informational sessions for parents, play dates for the children and a holiday party with money from the Buddy Walk.

However, while the success of the walk has contributed to the outreach and educational opportunities 21 United can provide, Thompson said they would not be able to do anything without the support of the community.

Each year, Thompson said, many businesses and individuals around town donate time, materials or other items, such as food and drinks, which allow the organization to keep their costs down and utilize their money in other ways.

“The overarching reason why we do (this walk) is love,” Thompson said. “We absolutely love our children. Not only our children but also other people’s children and we’ve found the community loves them, too. The community support has always been incredible and we are so appreciative of everyone.”

This year’s Buddy Walk will include a live DJ, bounce houses and other kid-friendly activities, a photo booth, a petting zoo and an appearance by Tony the Landshark as well as fire trucks and police cruisers. Ole Miss Men’s Basketball coach Kermit Davis will give opening remarks before the walk begins at approximately 2 p.m.

Participants will be treated to pizza, ice cream and other treats and individuals who pre-register will get a T-shirt included in the cost of admission. Adults are $10 and kids are $5 each. However, those with special needs or other disabilities can attend the event for free.

“I think the most important aspects of this event is an opportunity for people, especially children, who don’t have much of an opportunity to spend time with anyone that might be different from them – I think this is a great way for them to interact and see that folks with Down syndrome are not so different after all,” Thompson said. “The younger we can have children interact with those with disabilities, I think the more of an impact that makes for the future and dealing with those who are different than them.”

To register ahead of the walk, visit the 21 United website at http://www.21united.org. Walk up registration will be available the day of the walk, though participants cannot be guaranteed a T-shirt.