Buddy Walk returns to Daniel Island Oct. 1
Approximately 6000 babies are born in the United States each year with Down syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently more than 400,000 people are living with Down syndrome in the U.S. Thirteen year-old Daniel Island resident Joe Durante is one of them.
To help raise awareness about Down syndrome and funds for social events throughout the year, the Down Syndrome Association of the Lowcountry (DSAL) is hosting their 13th annual Buddy Walk on Daniel Island on Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. - and Joe, along with the rest of the Durante family, will once again be a part of the festivities. His mom, Dawn, is co-chair of this year’s event.
The DSAL, which was established by a group of parents in the 90s, is a volunteer-driven organization created for local families with children and adults with Down syndrome. Their mission, according to their website, is to “provide support to new parents; enrich lives through art, athletic and educational opportunities and events; increase community awareness of Down syndrome; enhance employment opportunities for people with Down syndrome; and improve education for students with Down syndrome.”
The popular, celebratory walk is much more than a fundraiser to many families, explained Dawn.
“The Buddy Walk is the DSAL’s main fundraiser of the year, but the most important part of it is that it’s a celebration for people with Down syndrome,” she said. “The main thing for me, and this was the original intent, was for our kids to enjoy the day right alongside kids without Down syndrome—for it to be a special day for them, but also to show that our kid enjoys the same thing that any other kid enjoys.”
Dawn has been involved with the Buddy Walk on and off since its inception in 2004, when Joe was just three months old. Since then, the event has become a tradition for many, including her own family, she explained.
“The past several years, we’ve had about 3000 people,” she added. “A lot of who come to the Buddy Walk are people who have come year after year, supporting the same person each year. It’s a big deal and a big tradition for a lot of our DSAL families. We have about 25 people come down from North Carolina every year for Joe’s team.”
The event will host a live local band featuring a local adult with Down syndrome, jump castles, face painting, snow cones and other fun activities for all to enjoy. Registration is $10 and includes a t-shirt, lunch from The Knights of Columbus on James Island and all activities.
Through her involvement with DSAL and being a parent to a child with Down syndrome, Dawn explained that she has learned a lot about herself, her family and life in general.
“I think having Joe has made me think a lot about what makes a successful life and also what happiness really means,” she said. “It’s made me go outside of my comfort zone. It’s made me mother my other children differently. It’s made me think a lot more than I ever thought that I would. He has made me much more patient than I would be otherwise. And it’s given me a lot of opportunities that I would not have had without him. I feel like our life is much bigger because of Joe. I think our highs are higher and our lows are lower. It’s just a bigger life.”
With Joe having grown up on Daniel Island, Dawn emphasized that the community and their ongoing support is extremely important to their family.
“Daniel Island is Joe’s place and these are his people,” said Dawn. “It’s important to us that the community understands that they’re a big part of his life. Joe can’t always come home and tell us the kids’ names that he is with during the day and who is important to him. But I hear from other people and I see it when I’m at school. I see people, parents and kids, talking to him. It makes me realize that Joe is special to a lot of families and that’s important to us. We need for the community to realize how important they are to Joe and for them to feel like they have a big part in his life.”
To register for the Buddy Walk, which officially kicks off in Etiwan Park on Daniel Island at noon this Sunday, visit www.dsalowcountry.org or sign up on the day of the walk.