Down Syndrome Festival and 5K slated to raise funds, awareness 

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Things were different when a small group of families gathered for the first Buddy Walk in 1995. Some folks offered condolences to parents of babies born with Down syndrome, and students with the genetic condition spent their days in special education classrooms, segregated from other students.

“Expectations were set very low. And it took some parent warriors ... to fight for their children to show what they could do,” said Jill Harrison, executive director of Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma (DSACO). “Things over time have slowly started to change. There’s a lot of opportunities now.”

Today, Buddy Walk has grown and evolved into the 21st Annual Down Syndrome Festival and 5K Sept. 26 at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, 2 S. Mickey Mantle Drive. The 5K was added three years ago and starts 8 a.m. The awareness walk — approximately four city blocks long — begins at 9:30 a.m. The fair begins inside the ballpark around 9:40 a.m. and is expected to draw nearly 6,000 people.

This year’s theme, 21 Years Celebrating the 21st Chromosome, is meant to honor people born with the genetic condition and the event’s longevity. Harrison said the goal is to bring people with Down syndrome — the result of a person having an extra copy of their 21st chromosome — out in public, showing the community they are just as capable and active as anyone else.

“Acceptance is a huge part of this,” she said. “We’re more alike than different.”

The chromosomal condition occurs in one in every 691 births, making it the most common chromosomal condition. More than 400,000 people of all races and economic classes in the United States have Down syndrome, according to DSACO. The organization serves 680 families in central Oklahoma, Harrison said, with more joining each day.

The goal is to raise $165,000 this year. The money stays in central Oklahoma to fund various activities and programs supported by DSACO.

Last year, the nonprofit organization, through a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation, opened a computer lab and learning center that offers free tutoring to people with Down syndrome. Kylee’s Kitchen is another new program offering microwave-based cooking classes to teens and adults with Down syndrome, encouraging independent living skills. DSACO also distributes new parent packets, conducts quarterly workshops, organizes parent-to-parent support meetings and provides scholarships to the annual National Down Syndrome Congress.

This year, the fun includes games, inflatables, an extreme animal exhibit and entertainment for all ages. Teen and adult organizers with Down syndrome, called “self-advocates,” are also planning a dance party.

Registration for the 5K is $35. Participation in the awareness walk and entry to the jamboree is free.

Visit dsfestivaland5k.com or call 600-9981 for more information.

Print headline: Walking proud, Raising funds and awareness is the goal of the 21st annual Down Syndrome Festival and 5K.

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Brendan Hoover

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