The Green River Area Down Syndrome Association (GRADSA) is set to host their 22nd annual Buddy Walk on Sept. 28. The walk begins at 10:30 a.m. at McConnell Plaza and is preceded by several events and activities that morning.
The association’s slogan, “more alike than different” is a common theme in all of their endeavors, but especially the Buddy Walk. GRADSA Executive Director Tiffany Thrash is excited about the upcoming event, particularly the opportunity that it gives individuals with disabilities to display their talents.
“We really want to show people in the community the abilities our individuals have to offer,” she said. “This event allows people to see first hand through the various performances and testimonies of the day what they have to offer.”
While the event serves as the organization’s primary fundraiser, their emphasis remains on awareness. Title sponsor, Independence Bank, and other corporate sponsors drive the fundraising, allowing the event to be free for all participants.
“My main goal is to get people there to walk,” Thrash said. “Anyone, kids and adults alike, can have a team – this event means so much to the families we serve.”
The event begins with an opening ceremony to commemorate the lives of those with Down syndrome from the community that died this year. Family, friends and individuals from the community will release blue and yellow balloons into the air as World Down Syndrome Month officially begins.
Also on site are inflatables, performances, free lunch (including a vegetarian option) and t-shirts for purchase.
GRADSA began as a family support group several years ago before officially obtaining their 501 (c) 3 in the early ’90s. Thrash began serving as the association’s first full-time employee this past year and is hopeful that they can establish a permanent location in the coming year. The organization serves upwards of 150 families from seven counties.
The association strives to enable families enriched with the Down syndrome-connection to share resources, build friendships and advocate together for the future of individuals with Down syndrome. Just recently the association formed a partnership with Southern Star that provides individuals with Down syndrome opportunities for employment. Colin Powers, who began his career at Kroger, is the first individual to benefit from the partnership.
“Every family that comes to us has different needs, we’re fortunate that we get to see families from all walks of life unite for a common goal,” she said. “We want to be the driving force of positivity. Down syndrome is considered a disability, but the truth is that the people we serve have more abilities than you could imagine.”
Last year’s Buddy Walk boasted 2,500 participants as compared to the 800 they generally averaged. With 250 volunteers and 28 teams already registered, they are determined to match or even exceed that number this year.
New to this year, and in addition to the Buddy Walk, the association will host their first-ever ‘Down Right Fun Costume Run’ on OCt. 19. The 5K run begins at Owensboro Christian Church at 8:30 a.m. and also features a costume contest and performances by GRADSA’s Pop Stars and Star Squad, the association’s dance teams.
General registration is $35. Individuals can also register for the run during the Buddy Walk at a discounted price of $15. All participants will receive a long-sleeve t-shirt.
“With October being Down syndrome month, we really want to highlight the whole month,” Thrash said. “Everyone does a 5K, so why not us too? We really want to get our members involved in the community as much as we can.”
Grand sponsors for the Buddy Walk include the Fraternal Order of Eagles, Integrity Testing and Inspection and Mike Horn.
Wild and crazy socks are strongly encouraged when participating in the Buddy Walk.
Buddy Walk registration and team links can be found here, while registration for the 5K can be found here. For additional information and for all things GRADSA, check out their website or their Facebook page.
“We can’t focus on differences, we must embrace what makes us alike,” Thrash said. “Come be a part of the celebration!”