Hundreds of people from around the region are gathering in Laramie this weekend to celebrate the Down syndrome community.
The Wyoming Buddy Walk is a 19-year Laramie tradition that includes live music, food, games and more. The event is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Edgar J. Lewis Bandshell at Washington Park.
Registration is $20 for adults and $10 for youth under 18 and includes a T-shirt, breakfast and lunch. Anyone who registers for the Buddy Walk can also purchase a ticket to the University of Wyoming football game for $10.
Bob Sell, CEO of Ark Regional Services, said the event was designed to bring people together and raise awareness.
“The Wyoming Buddy Walk is about celebrating the lives of people with Down syndrome, being a community together and looking at their contributions to our community,” he said.
The Buddy Walk is organized by the Wyoming Down Syndrome Association in conjunction with Ark. The Laramie event draws people from around Wyoming as well as from neighboring states. Sell said he’s expecting close to 400 people to participate.
The morning starts with donuts and coffee, along with carnival games, carnival snacks and prizes. Denver-based 6 Million Dollar Band will provide high-energy covers of ‘80s hits for the fifth year in a row.
“They’re in demand and they play all the time, and the fact that they’ve connected with us is fantastic,” Sell said. “They have a huge fan base in Denver, and they’re establishing a fan base here.”
At 10:30 a.m., there will be a recognition ceremony, after which participants will walk a loop around Washington Park. The event concludes with more music and lunch from McAlister’s Deli. Buddy Walk participants will then head to War Memorial Stadium to catch the 3 p.m. football game against Idaho.
Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of a full or partial copy of the 21st chromosome, which alters development. People with Down syndrome may have cognitive delays and physical characteristics such as low muscle tone, small stature and an upward slant to the eyes, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.
About 6,000 babies a year are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States.
Proceeds from the Buddy Walk will support a couple projects of the Wyoming Down Syndrome Association. The association organizes an annual family conference and brings in national experts to talk about health, education and other topics. The conference is free for families to attend, thanks to funds raised at the walk.
“Last year we had over 100 people attend our family conference in Casper, and we were able to continue to make it incredibly accessible for families,” Sell said
The association also distributes boxes with informational materials and gifts for parents of newborns with Down syndrome.
“We still have a lot of negative perceptions about the birth of a child with Down syndrome,” he said. “We want that to be celebrated.”
In addition to raising money, the Buddy Walk connects families with Down syndrome around the state, and it brings awareness to the contributions of members of that group.
“We want to make it a positive day, but we also want to change perceptions about what people with disabilities are capable of and how we can make sure that every member of our community has the same opportunities as everyone else,” Sell said.
The Buddy Walk is open to everyone in Laramie, regardless of their affiliation with anyone with Down syndrome.
“We really want the entire community to come out and celebrate with us,” he said.