Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member
Walk Profile: Columbia Buddy Walk®
Walk Date: Sunday, October 25, 2015
Who: Family Connection of South Carolina
Location: Sesquicentennial State Park; Columbia, South Carolina
Walk Registration Website: http://www.ds-stride.org/columbiabuddywalk
Organization Website: http://www.familyconnectionsc.org/
Family Connection of South Carolina will hold its annual Columbia Buddy Walk® at the scenic Sesquicentennial State Park in Columbia, South Carolina on Sunday, October 25th. We enjoyed a conversation with veteran team captain, Suzanne Wingard, about the impact this event has on her daughter, Zoe, and their family. “When you get there, everybody just bonds,” Suzanne says. “We’re there for the same reason and we’re all friends. It’s a fun day of celebration.”
Eight year old Zoe, an avid reader who also enjoys music and dancing, has “really embraced” the Buddy Walk®. She “knows that it is about her,” Suzanne shares. Having attended their first walk when Zoe was just a few months old, Suzanne shared that Zoe has grown up with the Buddy Walk®. “She goes to Buddy Walk® because it is about Down syndrome. We have fun, we get to play and we get to talk about it.”
Participating with a family group through Family Connection has allowed the Wingards to build relationships with other families who understand the joys and struggles of having a loved one with Down syndrome. It also gives Zoe a chance to play with kids who experience life the way she does. This type of programming is possible through the funds raised by the teams participating in the Columbia Buddy Walk®. In addition to the family group meetings, Family Connection also hosts the annual South Carolina Down Syndrome Conference. It provides resources to new parents, and many social groups (including play groups and workshops for siblings of children with special healthcare needs).
Zoe’s family joined forces with another family to create Team Cameron and Zoe. Cameron’s mother, Sharon, was one of Suzanne’s original support parents, and they have formed a close relationship. In the past, they’ve worked together on fundraisers like “Blinging Our Genes” (where local businesses decorate pairs of jeans and display them along with a donation jar) and have raised thousands of dollars over the last few years to help Family Connection of South Carolina provide valuable resources. This year, they are planning to organize Team Spirit Days (where businesses agree to donate a percentage of a day’s sales to their Buddy Walk® team). On the day of the walk, supporters from both girls’ families and churches help them celebrate, in an atmosphere similar to that of a reunion, with families setting up tailgating areas and decorating tents. Zoe’s favorite part of the day? The food! She also enjoys playing games, and Suzanne says that “she really likes the final Buddy lap to get her medal and walk. She is a little diva. She loves the recognition!”
To anyone who is thinking of signing up for this year’s walk, Suzanne definitely encourages you to do so! “I’ve been there! I was in your shoes,” she says. “I remember saying to my husband, ‘Do we really want to do this?’ I would tell them to take a breath, bite the bullet and go. They are going to be pleasantly surprised when they get there. Go and get involved. You won’t feel alone. You are going to have family that will reach out to you. I would tell them to come and find me and see how cute Zoe is!”
Making a personal connection is something that Suzanne did at their first walk. She remembers going to find the toddler girls with Down syndrome; once she saw them dancing, with their pigtails and cute t-shirts, she felt better about what Zoe’s future could look like. She says that over time, these observations have become more powerful. “Every year, I have found that I end up supporting another family that I meet there. They are where I was. Zoe becomes their hope like the other girls were for me.” Suzanne adds, “Of course, I’m still stalking the girls who are now teenagers!”
To join in on the fun at the 2015 Columbia Buddy Walk® on October 25th, please register or donate via the Stride site: www.ds-stride.org/columbiabuddywalk. To learn more about Family Connection of South Carolina, please visit www.familyconnectionsc.org.
This post is a continuation of our Down Syndrome Walk Profile series. We’ll be profiling and highlighting Down Syndrome Walks from around the country in an effort to share the stories and experiences that make Down syndrome communities so vibrant and unique. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon.