Author: Rose Phillips, ds-connex team member
Buddy Walk Date: Saturday, October 11th, 2014, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
What: 2014 CMDSS Buddy Walk® + 5K
Who: Central Mississippi Down Syndrome Society (CMDSS)k®
Where: Trustmark Park, Pearl, MS
Buddy Walk website: www.ds-stride.org/cmdssbuddywalk
CMDSS website: www.cmdss.org
Many Buddy Walk® event organizers tell us that they have difficulty keeping older individuals with Down syndrome involved in their organizations. That’s why we were excited when we spoke to Rebecca Phelps from the Central Mississippi Down Syndrome Society. At CMDSS, there is no problem retaining older members. In fact, the skills and achievements of their self-advocates and other individuals with Down syndrome are the most anticipated and celebrated part of the CMDSS Buddy Walk® + 5K.
“People come from all over and always ask to make sure that they know exactly when the handbells are playing, when the cheerleaders are going to perform,” she says. The handbell choir and cheerleaders are all self-advocates. “The whole community comes together to celebrate and really cheer on our Buddies that day” Rebecca says.
The CMDSS Buddy Walk® + BW5K also draws older members back because of its family reunion feel. “We’re in the South, so we love to greet people, meet people, and entertain,” Rebecca says. “That definitely carries over to our Buddy Walk®; we have that reunion-type atmosphere where you greet people you may not have seen in a year like you’ve just seen them yesterday.”
The Buddy Walk® + BW5K attracts more than just older members of the Down syndrome community. About 1,200 people come each year to walk. The first walk 12 years ago had about 500 walkers, but Rebecca says the community’s involvement has made the event a huge success. This year they’re expecting 1,500 attendees.
“Whether it’s students coming to support their classmates, or even teachers coming, it’s really neat to see how it’s grown to more than just the families of children with Down syndrome, but to really reach out to the community as a whole,” she says. It’s not hard to see why people come; they have food, fun and entertainment that appeals to all ages.
For the kids, they’ll have games and activities like face painting. On top of the entertainment, there will be resource booths for adults. This is the second year they’ll also have a 5K for race enthusiasts. Lunch will be provided for all participants. “Stay, hang out, the kids have fun with the games, eat lunch together, it’s just a real family type atmosphere,” Rebecca says.
The large attendance at the CMDSS Buddy Walk® + BW5K allows them to offer activities at little to no cost throughout the year for individuals with Down syndrome. “We use the funds from the Buddy Walk for basic operating expenses,” Rebecca says. “We have a larger goal this year with hopes to soon offer more programs and resources for our children, teens and adults.”
Besides social activities, the funds allow CMDSS to run its successful new parent program, which includes hospital outreach and new parent dinners throughout the year. They also offer a variety of grants, from helping teachers get technology in the classroom to paying for younger members to participate in local summer camps. “We’ve set a higher fundraising goal this year than ever before,” says Rebecca. “We’re looking at giving back more to our families, even entertaining the possibility of offering scholarships for individuals with Down syndrome to further their education after high school, so we’re excited about that.”
Raising funds for their programs is important, but Rebecca says that raising awareness in the community is their main goal. “Our theme for this past year has been ‘Just Like You,’” she says “We want to be sure that we’re reaching as many families as we can, reaching out to the community to make them aware of the talents and capabilities of the individuals with Down syndrome within our community. We’re more alike than different.”
Her favorite part of the day? “The pride that the families have, seeing them when their loved one with Down syndrome crosses that finish line. The beaming, smiling face, to know that this day was all about them, celebrating them and how wonderful they are.”
The 2014 CMDSS Buddy Walk® + BW5K will take place at Trustmark Park in Pearl, MS on October 11th 2014 from 9am-1pm. For more information about CMDSS, visit their website at www.cmdss.org. To register for or donate to the 2014 CMDSS Buddy Walk® + BW5K, visit their Stride site at www.ds-stride.org/cmdssbuddywalk.
If you liked this post, please check out the rest of our Buddy Walk Profile series. We profile NDSS Buddy Walk® events from around the country in an effort to share the stories and experiences that make the Down syndrome and Buddy Walk communities so vibrant and unique. If you’d like us to feature your Buddy Walk, please let us know in the comments below!