Author: Lara Kretler, ds-connex team member
This post is a continuation of our Buddy Walk Profile series. We’ll be profiling and highlighting 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. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon.
Not every Buddy Walk takes place in a palm tree lined carousel park overlooking the Pacific Ocean – but then, not every Buddy Walk takes place in beautiful Santa Barbara. The DSASBC 5th Annual Buddy Walk & Festival kicks off in two weeks on Saturday, June 14 in the Great Meadow at Chase Palm Park.
According to founder and organizer Melissa Fitch, the day is “about 10 percent actual walk and 90 percent relaxed family fun day and music festival.” Performers range from Blind Melon’s bass player Brad Smith accompanied by an all-star band, to 15 year old singer-songwriter Jamey Geston, the Wednesday Knights and the Rockshop Academy bands. The event, which is designed to celebrate Down syndrome awareness and lift up members of the community with Down syndrome, also features tons of family fun activities and games all day long.
The Santa Barbara Buddy Walk and Festival packs a lot into the day with all games, activities, entertainment, face painting, lunch, snacks, crafts and even an event t-shirt included in the fee. Registration costs $25 for adults, $10 for kids 3-17 and is free for kids under 3.
Melissa remembers the first time she took her son Ryan, who has Down syndrome, to the Buddy Walk in Los Angeles about five and a half years ago. She says that the look on his face, upon seeing other children who looked like him, was absolutely incredible. “Wow, he’s got my face!” was his reaction. Soon afterward, she decided to bring the Buddy Walk event to Santa Barbara to benefit children and families in her local community. And the event has become an important one for the Santa Barbara special needs community.
“Everything that we do – all our activities, programs and fun events for our families throughout the year – is thanks to the funds raised during our annual Buddy Walk,” said Melissa. “We are proud that 93 percent of funds raised in our community stay in our community to help local kids and families.”
Other events put on by the Down Syndrome Association of Santa Barbara County and made possible by the Buddy Walk include bike camps, yoga classes, bringing in educational speakers, hosting a Valentine’s dance in February for all people with special needs and Down syndrome awareness “hoedown” in October each year, as well as providing behavioral, social skills and peer support for children and families in the community.
Melissa’s favorite thing about the Santa Barbara Buddy Walk? “It’s a time to celebrate our kids and foster inclusion in the community – we welcome everyone, from families within the Down syndrome and special needs communities, to absolutely everyone else. We all have far more in common than we do differences. This is a great big family party in the park that also happens to be an important fundraiser.”
She adds – don’t forget your picnic blankets and chairs so you can relax on the grass overlooking the ocean, listening to the music and watching the kids dance and play.
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!