Down Syndrome Network Oregon's 2018 Buddy Walk celebrates inclusion and compassion in Lake Oswego

Emcee Cathy Marshall called it "a day filled with pure joy and happiness," and she was right. How else to describe Down Syndrome Network Oregon's 2018 Buddy Walk, which drew its largest crowd ever — well over 1,200 people — to Millennium Plaza Park on Sunday.

There were Laker dancers and Pacer football players, two calm llamas and a balloon-twisting clown, a bit of Bollywood and a lot of bubbles. Scouts from Troop 149 and Pack 203 presented the colors, and the LOHS Windjammers sang the national anthem. Even Lake Oswego firefighters were there, hoisting excited youngsters into a shiny red engine.

But the stars of the day? That would be the children and young adults with Down syndrome and other special needs who gathered with friends and family to raise money for an organization committed to bringing inclusion and compassion to their community.

More than 45 people donned pink hats to support 1-year-old Piper Goodell and her family as part of Piper's Posse. Lakeridge High's football team formed Team Willie on behalf of Willie Johnson, the brother of their classmate, Danny. For the seventh year in a row, Elliott and Jennifer Dale gathered daughter Lizzie's siblings, grandparents, friends and other relatives to walk as part of Team Lizzie.

The course wound down Evergreen Road and along Lakewood Bay — where nearby residents blew whistles, banged drums and hung banners proclaiming "Go Buddies!" — before looping back into the park for pizza and more fun.

Down Syndrome Network Oregon 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. What they didn't understand was how that message would grip the community and allow the Buddy Walk to become an increasingly popular event in Lake Oswego since 2002.

"Sometimes we don't take the time to reflect. For so long, we just got up and kept going. But I think with Eli and Megan both turning 21, to reflect back now on those young volunteers who came out for that first Buddy Walk, our children's friends basically — it meant so much to us," Renee Kerr says. "And now we see these new families come out and we envelop them. We can be there for them the way people were there for us."

In recent months, the Kerrs and Schiedlers have taken a step back as they transition out of their leadership roles at DSNO and let new players take the helm. But they were at Millennium Plaza Park on Sunday, soaking in the joy and happiness that only a sense of inclusion can bring.

— Gary M. Stein

Contract Publishing

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