Tomorrow is the 21st New York City Buddy Walk®. One of the coolest parts of the NYC event is the Times Square Video Presentation. Every year, NDSS reminds the world in a big way about the gifts that people with Down syndrome bring to their communities through a special video presentation on a jumbo screen in the heart of Times Square. This year’s video begins promptly at 10:00 AM ET and will be shown on the ClearChannel screen above the Blue Fin (W 47th Street and Broadway). If you are in New York City, please check it out and you will see Rachel and her friend Mr. Pete on the big screen! We don’t get the live feed this year but NDSS promises to have it up YouTube soon. I think Rachel’s picture has been on Time’s Square 12 times. This is a collage of the pictures. In the early years you could submit two pictures!
This is a picture from our first and only trip to the New York City Buddy Walk® in 2000. I always laugh and say it must be where her love for the Big Apple started!
The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) established the Buddy Walk program in 1995 to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome and to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October. The name Buddy Walk® promotes inclusion between friends of every ability. Since 1995, the Buddy Walk® has become the premier awareness event for Down syndrome in the United States. It is also the world’s most widely recognized public awareness program for the Down syndrome community.
In Rachel’s lifetime, there have been three things that I believe have been game changers in the Down syndrome community. I do not consider it overly dramatic when I say that the Buddy Walk® has changed the face of Down syndrome. When the Buddy Walk® was started – we didn’t have all the social media we have now. Most of our groups were started by wonderful parents who wanted people to provide accurate information about Down syndrome and wanted new parents to know they were not alone. Many if not most groups operated out of people’s homes and most groups had very little money. Though the intent of the Buddy Walk® was education, acceptance and awareness, the creators knew that this could be a fundraiser too. I don’t think anyone knew the impact it would make. As groups raised money, they were able to do more outreach, training and education. They were able to create and provide quality professional looking materials. Through the partnerships with the local affiliates NDSS has been able to strengthen the NDSS Policy Center and our political outreach. The Buddy Walk® was the trigger that has made it possible for groups to truly reach more families, educators, healthcare professionals, employers, sponsors, individuals with Down syndrome and much more. The Buddy Walk® changed the face of Down syndrome.
My friend Joe Meares, who helped to start Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome (D.A.D.S) and launch Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action (DSAIA) said this, “The Buddy Walk® absolutely was the game changer. In fact, the number of Down syndrome groups in the US increased by 40% from 1996-2002 simply because Buddy Walk® not only gave communities a vehicle for raising awareness, but, it provided the financial resources to organize and provide infrastructure and programs.”
Yes, there is so much work to be done. But today and tomorrow and maybe a few more days in the future, I’m just going to celebrate the lives of amazing people with Down syndrome!