Buddy Walk of the Berkshires benefits Downs syndrome

Sunday October 7, 2012

DALTON -- It was a good day to be a buddy for those with Down Syndrome.

More than 1,000 participants -- an event record -- participated Saturday in the sixth annual Buddy Walk of the Berkshires, the local version of a national event that is held to promote the awareness of those who are afflicted with the genetic condition.

Clad in T-shirts made especially for the event, participants walked roughly one mile from Craneville Elementary School on Park Ave nue to the town library on Main Street and back. Those with Down syndrome were accompanied by friends and relatives. Many linked arms or held hands as they walked.

Most of the walkers covered the distance in groups, including 25 who signed up to walk as teams.

"It gets more people on board," said Aaron Robb, the president of the Down Syndrome Group at Berkshire County Arc, the organization that sponsored Saturday's event, which finished before rain hit the Berkshires Saturday afternoon.

The event is sponsored nationally by the National Down Syndrome Society, a nonprofit committed to being the national advocate for the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down Syndrome, a genetic condition that occurs in people who have 47 chromosomes rather than the usual 46.

"It's fun," said Kim Scace, 31, of Pittsfield, who has Down Syndrome. "I like seeing all my friends and having a good time."

"I feel happy that I could help the kids out," said 47-year-old Lisa Harrington, who also has Down Syndrome, referring to the youngsters she knows who have the genetic condition.

NDSS founded the Buddy Walk in 1995 to spread its mission to the local level. The events mostly take place in and around October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. The Berkshire event began in 2007 with 500 participants.

According to Robb, the Berkshire event was the first of four Buddy Walks scheduled to take place in Massachusetts this year.

"It's a giant pep rally," Robb said. "More people are catching on to it, and many more folks are involved."

The local event also serves as the Down Syndrome Group's main fundraiser. Robb said last year's event, which had some 900 participants, raised about $10,000. The final total raised from Saturday's event won't be officially tabulated until later this week.

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, set the tone for Saturday's event when he told those assembled at the start of the walk that he hates the word disabilities.

"There are no disabilities," Downing said. "There are just different abilities that everyone has. Everybody in this county needs the chance to live up to their potential."

Following the walk, participants gathered under a tent in a field behind the elementary school to eat food and listen to music from the Berkshire Hills Music Academy Band, whose members also face challenges.

Mark Pettus, a member of the Berkshire County Arc's board of directors, completed the walk with his 19-year-old son, Alex, who has Down Syndrome, and is a student at Wahconah Regional High School.

"I can't think of a better manifestation of compassion and community than this event," Pettus said.

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