Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member
On Saturday, September 28th, GRADSA will celebrate its 2019 Buddy Walk® in Owensboro, Kentucky. GRADSA is fortunate to have many teams fundraising on its behalf, and with their help, they have exceeded their fundraising goal for this year’s event! One such team, Sweet Anna Sue, honors a young lady who certainly lives up to her team’s name.
Anna Sue and her family have been raising money for GRADSA since she was just a baby, and they will celebrate their 6th Buddy Walk® this year! Ds-connex had the pleasure of featuring Sweet Anna Sue on our blog back in March 2016, and we were so happy to catch up with the team once again to chat about Anna Sue’s progress and how they are preparing for this year’s walk event. We had the pleasure of talking with Anna Sue’s mom, Cindy, to discuss this year’s Buddy Walk® event and recent accomplishments.
Anna Sue has been quite a busy young lady since we last checked in with her family! The most recent excitement was sparked when she started attending Kindergarten a few weeks ago, and so far, “she is blowing everyone away!” Cindy shared that Anna Sue walks into the classroom each day, puts down her backpack, and announces her arrival to her teacher and classmates. We just love to hear about her confidence! Cindy went on to share that Anna Sue has “grown leaps and bounds with her speech and independence,” and she “can’t wait to see the progress this year.” So far, Anna Sue’s experience at school has been “tremendous,” and Cindy is very impressed with the support system in their town and school. Cindy is hoping to get the entire school involved in the GRADSA Buddy Walk®. There are several individuals with Down syndrome who attend the same school as Anna Sue. Last year, their school participated in the Rock Your Socks campaign, and several other local schools and the Daviess County Circuit Clerk’s office joined them. They plan to participate in the celebration again in 2020!
In addition to the sock fundraiser, Cindy employs several fundraisers to allow them to reach their team’s fundraising goal year after year. She uses Facebook to reach out to family and friends online, but she also writes a letter to previous donors to ask for their continued support, and even includes a return envelope to make it easy for them to contribute. She drops off an event t-shirt order forms to employers of friends and family members, and their team receives donations as a result of those efforts. Last year, Cindy worked with her sister to host a chili lunch fundraiser. They made 15 gallons of chili, and supporters purchased the lunch and then enjoyed it in a cafeteria surrounded by signs about Down syndrome, to build awareness. The company that hosted the fundraiser then matched the proceeds, helping Cindy raise over $1100 for that event! This year, they plan to host two lunch fundraiser events.
This year, Cindy also added a t-shirt fundraiser for her team. So far, she has sold over 100 t-shirts and has even used some of the proceeds to purchase a shirt for all of Anna Sue’s kindergarten classmate. What a terrific way to build awareness in the new classroom environment!
No matter how supporters contribute to the success of their team, Cindy is diligent in sending a handwritten thank you card which includes a photo of Anna Sue. This practice is sure to help ensure the continued support of these donors, year after year!
Members of the Sweet Anna Sue can expect a wonderful time at the GRADSA Buddy Walk®! Cindy sets up a tent and decorates it, creating a comfortable gathering space for her team. Each team member gets a Sweet Anna Sue wristband and carries signs to show their support, and Anna Sue enjoys the walk from a festively decorated wagon. Aside from the fun celebration, Cindy hopes that her team members will see the Down syndrome community and how they laugh and play together, just being themselves, and realize that Down syndrome is more common than we realize. She wants them to see the abilities of individuals with Down syndrome, see how big and supportive the community and organization are, and how important it is to keep those elements strong for the success of the community.
Due to their successful fundraising efforts, team Sweet Anna Sue enjoys the wonderful incentives that GRADSA offers their team captains. Cindy is assigned a Buddy Butler at the event, which assists her during the event and is “so helpful!” In addition to that assistance during the event, Cindy has received a scholarship to attend the NDSC annual convention, which she calls the “most rewarding incentive EVER!” This type of incentive, which offers an “immeasurable experience” to families, helps Cindy stay on task with her fundraising. She shared that it is “amazing to see the programs, support, and specialists” that are available to the Down syndrome community, and spending time with other families allows her to know that her concerns are shared, leaving her feeling “encouraged, and not alone.” By attending the convention, Cindy can make connections with other GRADSA families at the convention, and then bring back what she learns to help their home community grow stronger. What a great incentive; it not only encourages team captains to raise money to benefit their immediate community, but also allows them to attend a national convention where they can learn and build connections.
We were also happy to learn that Anna Sue and her family no longer have to travel as far as Boston to receive medical care. She is doing so well that she can now have evaluations closer to home, every few months, to continue monitoring her progress.
We hope that Anna Sue and her family have a wonderful time at this year’s event! You can join us in cheering on Sweet Anna Sue, and all of the amazing teams for the 2019 GRADSA Buddy Walk®, by visiting their Stride fundraising site: https://www.ds-stride.org/gradsabuddywalk.
This post is part of our ongoing Walk Team Spotlight blog series, which profiles Down syndrome walk teams by sharing their unique backstories, as well as fundraising, recruitment, and networking tips. Check back for future posts in this series coming soon! Submit your story ideas to: email@example.com.