The Buddy Walk event in support of children with Down syndrome

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Buddy Walk supports people touched by Down syndrome

By Toni Pennello 

Buddy Walk

Emma Martin, 10, of Freeland, and cousin Ava Kolubinskyj, 5, of Cresco, play during the Buddy Walk event in support of children with Down syndrome at Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday

WILKES-BARRE — The track at Kirby Park was filled with smiling faces and basket raffles Saturday for the annual Buddy Walk that aims to raise awareness and funding for those with Down syndrome.

Alice Uter, an organizer with the Luzerne County Down Syndrome Network, says the event helps build a sense of community for individuals with Down syndrome and their families.

“Especially young families with young children with Down syndrome … they know that there’s things in the community for them to be involved in,” Uter said.

Jonathan Shaffer, 7, of Drums, leads his team, called ‘Benjamin’s Buddy Brigade’ in support of brother Benjamin, at the Buddy Walk for Down syndrome children at Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday.

“Going forward, it’s nice to see children with special needs included more and more in the community. It gives them more opportunities and chances to just open up … to just get out there and have fun with other children and adults.”

Walkers organized in teams, and did four laps around the track for a total trip of 1 mile. First-, second- and third-place Spirit Awards were given out for the teams who could cheer the loudest. But every attendee with Down syndrome received a medal for participation.

“Not a lot of them participate in sports, so we give each individual a medal. We call them up before the walk,” Uter said.

The network registers each walk with the National Down Syndrome Society, which founded the walk in 1995, according to its website. Uter said the national organization receives 6 percent of the funds, and the rest stays in Luzerne County. The county network has been hosting the walk since 2005.

The funding goes to scholarships for a day camp at Camp Orchard Hill in Dallas, participation in productions at KISS Theatre in Wilkes-Barre, swimming lessons at the YMCA and more.

“A lot of the kids really enjoy it,” said Uter.

One of those kids is 13-year-old Tony Colon, who has Down syndrome and has been attending the walk with his mom and sister on and off for 10 years.

“We missed a few because we were on vacation, but we decided we really needed to start helping out,” said Tony’s mother, Mary, while organizing raffle tickets.

Tony participates in productions at KISS Theatre through the network — when his mother asked him to talk about it, he burst into a song from “Godspell.”

“He learned all the songs, and he still sings them, even though the play was last week. We have the CD in the car,” Mary said, smiling.

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