At Buddy Walk, a countywide show of support, encouragement

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DALTON —- Marissa Guzzo, 21, threw her arms around her teammates at the annual Buddy Walk of the Berkshires, greeting each person who walked in her honor with a hug. The Pittsfield woman spent her summer making and selling more than 75 bracelets to raise money for the Berkshire County Arc Down Syndrome Family Group, an organization that has supported her since she was 15.

On Saturday, her friends and family donned the colorful, weaved bands as they joined more than 1,200 people who walked through downtown Dalton to raise awareness of Down syndrome.

"She's very lovable," Guzzo's family friend, Bob Bottume, said when he arrived at Craneville Elementary School before the walk. "It's always fun spending time with Marissa."

Guzzo's team, "Marissa's Mob," was one of 40 to participate in the Buddy Walk, according to Berkshire County Arc CEO Kenneth Singer.

The national event, hosted by the National Down Syndrome Society, was started locally by Berkshire County Arc's Down Syndrome Family Group, a tightknit organization of local families that turn to one another for social and emotional support.

Proceeds from the walk go toward training for families and educators, outings, and other assistance to help children and adults with Down syndrome attend programs and receive services.

Singer said that the Berkshires has been exceptionally supportive when it comes to individuals living with developmental disabilities. Berkshire County Arc serves children and adults with developmental disabilities, brain injuries and autism through its 42 group homes and other community-based programming. Over 100 of the individuals who are affiliated with Berkshire County Arc also are competitively employed in the community.

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Without business owners and supporters who "recognize our individuals' abilities, not their disabilities," many of these men and women would be isolated from the community, Singer said.

"If it wasn't for the success that you give our people, they wouldn't be out in the community, working, living, recreating and having meaningful lives," Singer told the crowd at the start of the walk.

Guzzo, who attends the Housatonic Academy in Pittsfield, soon will enter a day program to learn life skills in hopes of one day finding employment in the community.

Jim Guzzo has been her guardian since she was 5, when his mother adopted her.

Raising a child with Down syndrome is rewarding, challenging and loving, he said. Through it, Marissa has taught him patience and how to love unconditionally.

When asked what her favorite part of the annual event is, Guzzo said: "Uncle Jimmy."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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