A buddy for everybody at the Buddy Walk
Last Sunday Millennium Park Plaza was filled with a particular energy and joy that only comes around once a year — for the Down Syndrome Network of Oregon's (DNSO) annual Buddy Walk.
The 18th annual Buddy Walk may have been the first year in the history of the event that the sun wasn't shining, but that didn't stop participants and supporters from coming out in droves to support friends, family and community members living with Down syndrome.
DNSO was founded by two couples — Paula and Michael Schiedler and Renee and Bruce Kerr — who wanted their children, Megan Schiedler and Eli Kerr, to have the respect and inclusion that any other child in the community might have. DSNO is a faith-based support group that provides comfort and acceptance for families, friends and individuals with Down syndrome. It is their goal to use community outreach events to create a vision of hope and awareness to demonstrate that every life brings value to the world.
What the couples didn't expect was how that message would grip the community and allow the Buddy Walk to become an increasingly popular event in Lake Oswego since 2002.
The goal of the Buddy Walk is to celebrate Down syndrome awareness and to raise funds for programs that benefit the local Down syndrome community. Over the years, the Buddy Walk has supported over 100 local programs and over 500 local families.
On Sunday, Paula Schiedler opened the Buddy Walk festivities with a prayer. "Bless this day and all who join us on our mission," she said. "All lives are precious and bring gifts to this world."
Schiedler then asked her friend Katie, a 34-year-old with Down syndrome, to join her on stage as an example of the full lives that people living with Down syndrome can have. Schiedler asked Katie to share with the audience the kinds of things she does, including working a paying job at Consumer Cellular, volunteering at the Lake Oswego Senior Center and Kindred Hospice, singing in a choir, and acting for PHAME Academy in Portland — a school of the arts and performance where people with and without disabilities come to connect, make friends, learn and grow. Katie is also independent in her transportation, taking Lyft and TriMet throughout the city. "Katie sends a message that the future looks brighter every day for kids and young adults living with Down syndrome," said Schiedler.
The morning's festivies also included a performance by the Lake Oswego High School dance team, a performance by the Windjammers choir, and a performance by a performance from a Portland-based Bollywood dance troupe. The Lakeridge High School football team was also in attendance to walk with Team Willie.
Elliot Dale, a member of the DNSO board of directors and parent of a child with Down syndrome named Lizzie, told attendees that this was his and his family's eighth Buddy Walk. "There's a lot of familiar faces, and a lot of people I look forward to getting to know," he said. "We are like a family here at the Down Syndrome Network. This is a special club that you didn't necessarily apply for, but you certainly belong here. We want you to feel welcome in this community."
Dale also encouraged parents to not be shy about taking an abundance of pictures at the event. "You can never have too many pictures," he said. "They help us remember these special moments and slow things down a bit."
For more information on the Down Syndrome Network of Oregon and the Buddy Walk, visit www.dsno.org.
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