South Plainfield Buddy Walk Marks 10th Year with Over 500 Walkers
Sunday, October 6, 2013 • 1:00am
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - In 2003, Michele and Keith Both had their second son, Kyle, who was born with Down's Syndrome. That October, they attended their first Buddy Walk, and a year later they decided to bring the walk to their own community, so people in South Plainfield and surrounding communities could participate.
“I would have been happy if we got 20 people,” Michele said when describing her expectations that first year. It turned out that over 300 participants showed up, and the numbers have grown each year since.
This year, the walk celebrated its 10th anniversary. Kyle is in fifth grade, and Michele describes him as a “spunky” boy whose biggest challenge is his speech. She says she hopes the walk will show people that children like Kyle are just like everyone else: “Our kids are no different than any other person.”
The main purpose behind the walk, according to Michele, is to build awareness about Down's Syndrome and to gain acceptance. At home, she says Kyle is just like her other three sons. “He blends in, and the other kids accept him. He gets in trouble sometimes, just like the others.”
In its first nine years the walk raised about $300,000, and as of Saturday morning Michele said the group had raised another $37,000. On-line donations can still be made on the group’s website, so the total will likely grow. With 480 people pre-registering, attendance was estimated at over 500 walkers this year.
The Buddy Walk was established in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October and to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. Over the past sixteen years, the Buddy Walk program has grown from 17 walks to nearly 250 across the country and around the world.
The walk brings out both individual walkers and teams. As of Saturday afternoon, the top individual fundraiser was Ericka Naklick. Close behind were Peter Moukios, Melissa Ulanich, Krysten and Noah Driscoll, and Jennifer Robertson.
The top five teams, starting with first place, were Sydney's Superstars, Victoria's Team Victory, Julianna's Angels, Kyle's Krew, and the Ry Guy team.
Proceeds from the walk in South Plainfield will be donated to the National Down's Syndrome Society, Central NJ DS PAG, Network 21 and DSRTF (Down's Syndrome Research & Treatment Foundation). The proceeds will also go to creating packets/gift baskets for new parents of children with Down's Syndrome and implementing a program on educating health-care professionals about dealing with Down's Syndrome.