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Down syndrome group holds Buddy Walk

While some participants walked, others had to be carried during the Down syndrome awareness walk Saturday at the Old Desert Village in This Is the Place State Park.

More than 80 people came out to participate in the Buddy Walk, hosted by the Up Town Downs Support Group, the Salt Lake City chapter of the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation."We've been planning this event for several months, identifying parents with kids who have Down syndrome, sending out flyers, securing corporate sponsorship. It has been a lot of work, but it has definitely been worth it," said Alan Collier, committee member for Up Town Downs Support Group.

More than 40 kids with Down syndrome, ranging in age from a few months to 18 years, participated in the Buddy Walk. Everyone who participated received a T-shirt and one of several prizes: Jungle gyms, Gastronomy Inc. restaurant gift certificates, Grizzly tickets and Coke products were all given away after the walk.

"I had a great time; I love to go on walks," said James Fitzgerald, the 18-year-old Morgan High School Homecoming king. Shelly Eyre, Murray High School's Homecoming queen, also attended.

"It has been just a great day. We've had beautiful weather and there has been so much support for the event. I am really impressed with these parents; they are so committed and have gone through so much effort to make this walk a success," said Tericia Fitzgerald, president of the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation.

A mother of five children - two of which have Down syndrome - Fitzgerald said it's very important for parents of such children to meet and receive support from other families who share their challenges.

More than $2,000 in pledges and $4,000 in sponsorships was raised during the event, to fund educational awareness programs and activities for parents of Down syndrome children, said Ann Dunn, president of the Salt Lake chapter of the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation.

Dunn expects that events such as the Buddy Walk will help to dispel common myths about individuals with Down syndrome and help increase community awareness.

"We have now learned that with early intervention, children with Down syndrome can be taught. For instance, many of the kids here today know S.E.E. sign language, sign language as spoken in English," said Dunn.

Members of the Up Town Downs Support Group hope the Buddy Walk will grow into a regional event, with more parents and community members participating.

"October is national Down syndrome awareness month and events like the Buddy Walk are important because they help educate communities," said Fitzgerald.