Today, the Green River Area Down Syndrome Association (GRADSA) kicks off their 21st annual Buddy Walk from 11 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the McConnell Plaza on the river, with registration beginning at 10:00 a.m.
GRADSA Executive Director, Tiffany Thrash, says that the mission of the event is not only to raise funds for the organization, but also to “raise awareness of the abilities that people with Down Syndrome have to offer our community.”
So far this year, teams for the Buddy Walk have exceeded the goals set for fundraising. GRADSA hoped for both corporate and family teams to raise at least $40,000 total for each. But as of Friday afternoon, corporate team funds topped $56,000 and family teams had raised $64,000.
Thrash hopes for members of the community to join in the fun, even if they aren’t part of a team or participating in the walk itself.
“The more people who can come, the more our GRADSA individuals and their families will enjoy it,” Thrash said. “They were overwhelmed with the people who came last year, and we are hoping to double that amount.”
GRADSA serves people diagnosed with Down Syndrome and their families from the prenatal stage all the way to the end of life. Several of those served are in the 58-60-year age range.
Jess “Bubba” Lee will be 59 soon and, according to his sister, Barbara Grooms, he is an “inspiration” to her and her family. Although their family has been involved with GRADSA and the Buddy Walk “forever,” they have always stayed “in the background,” Barbara said.
Until she passed away less than 2 years ago, Bubba’s mom was his main caregiver. Having been used to the way society once viewed individuals with Down Syndrome, Bubba’s mom was very protective of him. Once Barbara and her husband Richard became Bubba’s caregivers they started taking him to more public events and saw that people can celebrate what individuals with Down Syndrome have to offer. Through GRADSA, Barbara has seen Bubba be able to experience a “better quality of life.”
Sandy Heep is part of the team “Shannon’s Bananas,” named after her sister Shannon, age 48. Shannon, along with Sandy’s nephew, Lukas Mahoney, age 18, are individuals with Down Syndrome and the motivating factor for Sandy’s involvement with the event every year. This year, Shannon’s Bananas have raised a total of $6,800, their highest ever in the 20 years they have participated in the Buddy Walk. Shannon has been on the GRADSA swim and dance teams in the past.
“GRADSA is a great organization, and I have met so many great people through it. It’s like having another family!” said Heep.
Members of the community are encouraged to head down to the river for a free lunch beginning at 11:30 a.m., followed by live entertainment including performances by GRADSA’s dance teams, the Pop Stars and the Star Squad. The event will also offer inflatables, a mechanical bull and a dance party tent. The drawing for the choice of a John Deere Gator or $6,000 will take place at 1:30 p.m. Tickets for this raffle will be sold throughout the event.
“The more who attend, the better. The individuals with Down Syndrome love it, and a person can’t help but have a smile on their face when they are around these individuals,” Thrash said.
GRADSA serves people with Down Syndrome and their families in 10 different counties. They encourage anyone interested to get involved in the organization and its many events. If you are interested, please contact Tiffany at 479-223-1234 or [email protected].