Locals walk in support of Down Syndrome

Illinois Men´s Basketball coach Bruce Weber leads the first Buddy Walk of Champaign County on Saturday in Crystal Lake Park. The walk was one of many across the nation to shed light on Down syndrome awareness month this October. Adam Babcock

Illinois Men´s Basketball coach Bruce Weber leads the first Buddy Walk of Champaign County on Saturday in Crystal Lake Park. The walk was one of many across the nation to shed light on Down syndrome awareness month this October. Adam Babcock

By Alyssa Etier

The Down Syndrome Network for Champaign County held its first Buddy Walk this Saturday in Crystal Lake Park. Nearly 300 participants walked the mile-long path, raising money and awareness for Down syndrome.

“I am very pleased with the outcome today,” said Kathleen Williams-Hjort, president of the Down Syndrome Network. “I’m thrilled we had so much support.”

The Down Syndrome Network is a not-for-profit organization that serves families affected by Down syndrome by offering support and providing resources and information. The organization was restarted in Champaign County two years ago.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by abnormal chromosomes. More than 350,000 people are affected by it in the United States, according to the National Down Syndrome Society’s Web site.

The society started Buddy Walk in 1995 to promote inclusion of people with Down syndrome into the community while raising money for its services. It is held every October, which is Down syndrome awareness month.

“It’s great to have the awareness for Down syndrome because there are a lot of people who don’t know about it,” said Darla Schall of Paxton, Ill., mother of a 5-month-old with Down syndrome.

Schall has been a member of the network for three months, finding the group to be very welcoming and supportive. She walked in Saturday’s event with a group of 17 people, all wearing silk-screen shirts with a picture of her son. Other participants wore pins picturing their friend or family member affected by Down syndrome.

“It’s so nice to see the support of our friends who came to walk and of the community,” said Tricia Evans, mother of 14-month-old Sarah, who is affected by Down syndrome.

Williams-Hjort’s 3-year-old daughter also has Down syndrome.

“She’s my passion,” Williams-Hjort said. “She’s my main motivation.”

Children carried balloons, and many parents pushed strollers during the hour-long walk around the park. All participants wore Buddy Walk T-shirts.

“I think it went very well, especially for the kids,” said Rossanne Orozco, senior in LAS and a volunteer for the Buddy Walk. “They’re getting more interaction, not just the walk.”

Children received a plastic medal when they completed the walk. Afterward, they had the opportunity to get their faces painted, watch the two clowns perform, jump in a big, inflatable castle or play various games, such as ring toss and basketball. Food, a raffle and a dance performance by the University High School dance team also entertained the participants. Bruce Weber attended the event to gain support for the cause. He signed autographs and talked with participants before kicking off the walk.

“People loved him being here,” Williams-Hjort said. “He was very approachable.”

Due to the success of this year’s walk, the Down Syndrome Network plans on making it an annual event.