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Buddies walk for Down Syndrome awareness, fundraising

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By Cameron Todd

More than a hundred Frederick area residents marched around the fairgrounds Saturday to increase awareness about Down Syndrome and raise funds to support people with the chromosomal condition.

The Family Resource Information Education Network for Down Syndrome, or FRIENDS, hosted its 17th annual Buddy Walk on Saturday. The fundraiser supports FRIENDS’ educational programs, scholarships, grants and outreach programs, while connecting families to information and services.

“The Buddy Walk helps us raise awareness and acceptance for people with Down Syndrome,” FRIENDS board member and mother of a son with Down Syndrome, Lauri Edwards, said. “I really want the community to love our children and include them in all aspects of life because they can do the things anybody else can do.”

The Buddy Walk is usually in September in Baker Park. But heavy rains led FRIENDS to postpone it until this spring.

FRIENDS is a 17-year-old organization that does year-round outreach and programming. The group recently had posters hung in Frederick County Public Schools highlighting equality for people with Down Syndrome ahead of World Down Syndrome Day on March 21.

FRIENDS also partners with similar groups in Montgomery County and Baltimore to host an annual education conference. The Techniques for Success conference brings more than 600 educators together for lectures and break sessions on educating students with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, FRIENDS President Evan Routzahn said.

FRIENDS also helps people with Down Syndrome find employment opportunities. FRIENDS helped Samantha Gibbons get work in restaurants, schools and retail stores. Gibbons currently does ribbons, yarn and stickers at a Michael’s craft supply store.

FRIENDS has “helped us connect with other families, educate the public and our children are a part of productive society,” Gibbons’ mom Jean Harley said. “They aren’t just a burden on society. They can work.”

In addition to the fundraising walk around the Great Frederick Fairgrounds, the Buddy Walk also boasted activities like an information fair, petting zoo, games and a raffle.

Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor started the event by reading a proclamation from the city. It touted the drastic increase in life expectancy for Americans with Down Syndrome since the 1980s — from an average of about 25 years to more than 60 years today — and highlighted the population’s place in Frederick.

“I’m glad to be a part of a community that recognizes the vital role people with Down Syndrome play,” O’Connor said.

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