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Annual Buddy Walk raises awareness, funds for Down syndrome

By Staff | Oct 28, 2010

Sabrina Rod was all smiles after last year's Buddy Walk.

The second annual Captiva Buddy Walk will take place on Saturday, Nov. 6 at South Seas Island Resort, and South Seas Managing Director Rick Hayduk is hopeful that the event will not only raise awareness and afford more inclusionary opportunities, but bring more members of the Southwest Florida Down syndrome community together.

Hayduk, the father of a beautiful little girl named Jamison who just so happens to have Down syndrome, knows how important building a large network of support — and opportunities — in the local community is.

“I’m still struggling to get to know the Down syndrome community in our area,” Hayduk said. “But we already know that we’ll have a few new kids this year participating in the Buddy Walk. This is such a small niche and to see a turnout like we had last year, it’s heartwarming, especially to the parents who may not have been finding a lot of community support. Last year was unbelievable. The weather was perfect and all the families had the opportunity to come together. We’ve stayed in touch with some of them over the year. In fact, I just attended the birthday party of one of last year’s participants.”

But the Buddy Walk goes beyond more than just making friends and developing a strictly Down syndrome community — it’s about expanding that network into society so that Down syndrome individuals have access to the same fantastic opportunities as everyone else.

The money raised from last year’s inaugural Buddy Walk helped five children with Down syndrome and one Autistic child participate in a new inclusionary initiative with the Sanibel Sea School, and organization devoted to educating people about the importance of marine conservation.

“Their mission, of course, is to save the ocean — but they teach with a huge emphasis on humanity, and what humans can do to protect the ocean,” Hayduk said, noting that the inclusionary program was a total success. “It was amazing.”

The money raised this year will again benefit the Sanibel Sea School’s inclusionary program and, also the same as last year, 25 percent of the proceeds will go to the National Down Syndrome Society in Washington. A percentage will be donated to the Special Olympics.

“There’s something magical about this event — it’s a celebration of awareness and inclusion,” Hayduk said. “It’s truly transformational to have the blessing of a Down child, and I’m so lucky to have this piece of land to host such an event — and to have the full support of LXR is amazing. If we can come even close to replicating last year’s event, it will be well worth it.”

The registration fee for the 2010 Buddy Walk is $20 for adults, $10 for children and free for children under 6. Entry forms are available for download at ssirbuddywalk.weebly.com.

For more information about Down syndrome, visit www.ndss.org.