BRATTLEBORO - About 150 people came out to the Brattleboro Common Saturday to celebrate and honor people in Windham County who were born with Down syndrome and their families.
The fourth annual Buddy Walk included speeches and activities on the Common and then a walk through Brattleboro.
Jim Nicholson, one of the event organizers, said the day gives families who have children with Down syndrome a chance to reach out to other members of the community who might have questions about the syndrome.
"There is a notion that people with developmental disabilities need to be treated differently," Nicholson said while making his way down Oak Street on the walk, which went through downtown and back up to the Common. "They have the same needs as everyone else and want to be a part of the community."
Nicholson's daughter, Kayli, has Down syndrome and is a student at Green Street School.
He said that while the Brattleboro school system, and the wider community, makes it easier for children and adults with Down syndrome to assimilate, the genetic condition still causes confusion and people continue to be uncomfortable around people with the syndrome.
The Buddy Walk is a nationwide event that was started in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. There are more than 250 Buddy Walks taking place this year, most of them in October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
In 2011 more about 285,000 people took part in events across the country and helped raise more than $11 million.
Nicholson said that while raising funds is a part of the annual event in Brattleboro, the walk and gathering on the Common also helps people with Down syndrome meet other people who might have questions.
"We want to invite people into relationships and encourage people to engage with people who have developmental disabilities," Nicholson said. "People with developmental disabilities have something to offer and we are just asking that people be open to that."
At the event on the Common Emma Davis, who is 17 and has Down syndrome, read a speech about her experiences around Brattleboro.
Davis is a sophomore at Brattleboro Union High School and joined the school's cheerleading team this year. She is also involved with the chorus at school and swims in the Vermont Special Olympics.
Her father, Andy Davis, also spoke Saturday and talked about the people who have reached out throughout Emma's life to make sure she was included in activities.
"It has not always been easy and there were times we had to fight to make it work for Emma," he said. "However, on the whole, Emma has had many opportunities along the way with many talented individuals who have made her life the rich and inspiring experience that it has become."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.