Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member
“I got connected with the Rio Grande Valley Down Syndrome Association one week before their first walk in 2013,” says Veronica Aleman, who is the team captain of Team Frankie for the RGVDSA Step Up For Down Syndrome Awareness Walk. “At the time, Frankie was receiving therapy through Easter Seals and the Early Intervention Specialist gave us information to connect us with RGVDSA and other families. I immediately called Deborah Tomai (Executive Director of RGVDSA) and she welcomed us to attend the walk.”
Veronica searched online that first year to learn more about other Down syndrome walks and how teams celebrate the day. It gave her the idea to develop a superhero theme for their team, appropriately named “Team Frankie.” Veronica had a friend of hers print superhero-themed t-shirts for their group. Frankie, 8 months old at the time, even wore a Superman onesie! Veronica recalls humorously, “When we showed up to that first walk, we were the only team that had an actual theme!” Everyone in her family had a great time at the first walk event. “I wanted to know what else RGVDSA did and how I could get involved and connected with other families. I wanted to know what to expect and what other families had gone through already.”
The RGVDSA Step Up For Down Syndrome Awareness Walk is now in its fourth year. Veronica shared with us on how she recruits team members to Team Frankie. “I have a Facebook account that I use to promote our team. As soon as registration opens, I create our team page and put up a picture and write and little bio about Frankie. October, being Down Syndrome Awareness Month, is my brag month. Every day my Facebook friends are going to see something about Frankie. By doing this, I see more people signing up and donating to our team page. We have friends and family out of state that will also do their part. Each year, Team Frankie has a new superhero as their theme. They’ve done: Superman, Batman and Captain America the last three years. Rumor has it walk participants could see The Hulk this year! The team is also planning to do a t-shirt fundraiser this year with the words: “We love someone who has Down syndrome.”
The RVDSA Step Up For Down Syndrome Awareness Walk has had a tremendous impact on Frankie and his walk team. “We are more united,” shares Veronica. “We see everything in a totally different way. We’re living it every single day. Down syndrome is not really so different as it is said to be. At the walk, we see the kids out there doing Zumba, dancing, singing, and saying the pledge of allegiance. Frankie does everything.” For Veronica, each year the walk gets better and better. “I meet new families and we get to see how kids have grown over the past year. You don’t stay within your team at the walk. We all go and mingle and spend time with everyone. Nobody is reserved; everyone is socializing and having a great time. Frankie also LOVES the attention.”
RGVDSA has a goal of raising $50,000 through this year’s walk event. “Every dollar raised is going to bring us a step closer to ensuring local children and adults with Down syndrome will have opportunity to reach their potential,” says Veronica. “RGVDSA brings out speakers and does activities we want to see as a community. The walk unites all of us and at the same time we’re fundraising for a really good cause. It’s so rewarding as families to see that everything we do comes back to us.”
This post is a part of our ongoing Walk Team Spotlight blog series, which profiles Down syndrome walk teams 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.