MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Mark Your Calendar–this morning I’m joined by Cassie Samaj with the Coastal Alabama Down Syndrome Society–in two weeks on October 15th is the annual buddy walk.

What is the buddy walk?

The Buddy Walk is our organization’s single fundraising event. The Buddy Walk is a one-mile walk, which allows all of our individuals to participate, to help spread awareness and support of Down syndrome. It is a family-friendly event that offers music and dancing, art and crafts, guest appearances from princesses, game trailers and so much more. We also provide food and drinks. Your registration for the event covers your cost for all of these things.

What is the message of buddy walk?

We want the opportunity to celebrate our individuals and for the community to come out and spend time with our individuals to see how capable they are. There are so many misconceptions about individuals with Down syndrome, that we want the opportunity for people to see they are not that different than their own children. They work, attend regular schools, and have similar interests as typical individuals such as dancing, arts and crafts, video games, spending time with friends, etc.

What does it help fund?

The funds from the Buddy Walk help fund our enrichment programs for our individuals and families. It affords us the opportunity to send families to conferences to learn more about supporting their child or adult. We were able to send 13 families to the national Down syndrome conference in New Orleans this year. It also allows us to purchase specialized equipment for our individuals, such as pediatric treadmills and adaptive bicycles. Learning to ride a bicycle is a very hard thing for individuals with Down syndrome to achieve, so these bicycles can help conquer this goal for them.

What do people often not understand about kids and adults with Down Syndrome?

That our individuals want to be like their peers. They want to have friends, go to dances, be employed and have a meaningful, productive life. If society didn’t treat them like they were different, they themselves wouldn’t feel different. They can do almost anything a typical individual can do, they may just do it a little slower, and may need extra instruction, but it is important for the community and employers to just give them the chance.

Why is the Buddy Walk an important event?

It is the first step in the community being exposed to our individuals with Down syndrome and seeing what productive happy lives they can live.

How has it grown over the years?

When I first got involved about 9 years ago, we had about 200 walkers and our goal was to raise about $10,000. We have grown so much that we have had to change our venue we now have approximately 1400 walkers and our goal is to raise $75,000.