Buddy Walk Provides Down Syndrome Support to Families

Mark Sepeda and his sister Ciara get ready for a train ride. The Down Syndrome Association of the In...

Mark Sepeda and his sister Ciara get ready for a train ride.
The Down Syndrome Association of the Inland Empire held its sixth Buddy Walk Saturday afternoon at Mt. San Jacinto College.

About 800 people attended the event, which increased Down Syndrome awareness by bringing families together and connecting parents to resources for their children.

"The Buddy Walk is a symbolic walk of togetherness and inclusion," said Angelina Degen, the director of the event. "It’s people getting together for something positive and celebrating people with Down Syndrome."

The walk began and ended under a blue and gold balloon arch representing the colors of Down Syndrome. Families and supporters strolled the parameters of the venue with posters and foam fingers to demonstrate their support.

There was also a 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer run, food, vendors, entertainment, games, activities and a raffle.

"It brings a smile to my face to see all the people you wouldn’t expect to see here come out and support Down Syndrome awareness," said Mark Sepeda, a senior at Tahquitz High School.

Sepeda was there to support his 8-year-old sister, Ciara, who has special needs.

"It’s important to note that people with Down Syndrome are human," he said. "They’re people too."

During the event, special needs children performed onstage in dance groups, played music in drum circles, took train rides, jumped in bounce houses, rode a mechanical bull, pet animals, and more.

Families use posters to show their support during the Buddy Walk.
One popular vendor was Art in Motion for Kids, where special needs children and others painted pictures and built sculptures out of recycled Styrofoam and shaving cream.

"We offer art in preschool, but it’s limited," said vendor Karen Pinot, a preschool teacher at Head Start in Murrieta. "My business allows children more time to express themselves."

Parents such as Cindy Lee of San Jacinto appreciate how this event provides special opportunities for their children to have fun.

"My son loves it because he can do things at his own pace here," she said of her son, Aiden, who rode in a makeshift train called "Aiden’s Autumn Express." Last year he rode in a replica of Lightening McQueen from the movie “Cars.”

This was Lee’s second time in the Buddy Walk.

"A lot of times you feel alone, but you meet parents here who go through the same struggles," she said.

Rachel Amundson, a volunteer on the DSAIE board, helped put on the event and brought her daughters to socialize with other children of similar needs and circumstances.

“My daughter, Dillan, gets to make a lot of friends like her, so she feels comfortable here," she said. "And my other daughter gets to meet children who also have siblings with Down Syndrome, so she knows she’s not the only one."

Amundsun been a part of the association for six years and said the Buddy Walk has grown a little more every year.

"I wish there was more public traffic to spread awareness, but parents are getting connected to resources for their children, and that’s our goal," she said.

A father and son take a moment to watch the Buddy Walk.
"Aiden's Autumn Express" and his family walk the red carpet.


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