It was a day of fun, camaraderie and raising awareness Nov. 3 as the Down Syndrome Association of Sudbury (DSAS) hosted its sixth annual Go21 Walk at Lockerby Composite School.
Formally known as the Buddy Walk, the Go21 Sudbury Walk for Down Syndrome Awareness is hosted during National Down Syndrome Awareness Week to raise funds and awareness for individuals with Down Syndrome in the community.
It is part of a national movement by the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, who named the event in recognition of the extra material on the 21st chromosome that determines if a person has Down Syndrome.
"I think it's really important to show ... that there are people with exceptionalities around and we're just like you guys and we want the same things in life," said Paula Cunningham, vice president of DSAS.
While Cunningham said that the total amount raised Nov. 2 has yet to be calculated, donations thus far have surpassed $11,000.
The majority of this funding comes from the event's sponsors she said. Cunningham said Mike Foligno donated $5,000 on behalf of the Janice Foligno Foundation and Day Construction donated around $2,000.
DSAS provides financial and social support to around 60 individuals with Down Syndrome in the Greater Sudbury Area. This includes programming for caregivers, which could be a legal guardian or family member if parents are no longer able to manage the responsibility of care.
"It was a lifesaver for me as a new parent," said Colette Julien Leclair, former treasurer, vice president, and now an active volunteer with DSAS.
Leclair first learned about DSAS from the nursing staff at Health Sciences North at the birth of her daughter 19 years ago. She became involved with the organization shortly thereafter, in what she said has been a "therapeutic" experience for herself and family members.
"I always say she was my little curveball but I wouldn't have met all these great people if it hadn't been for her," she said. "It's like one big happy family."
In addition to emotional and financial support, DSAS strives to encourage awareness and inclusion within the community. In this regard, Leclair said the organization has made considerable improvements, but there is still a "long, long, long way to go.”
Particularly, she said, in regards to entering the workforce.
Cunningham said DSAS members are employed by Kuppajo, Toppers Pizza and Northwood Medical Clinic. This, she said, is a credit to the efforts of parents pushing for workplace inclusion, much in the same way caregivers forced the issue of inclusion when it comes to those with Down Syndrome entering the school system.
"A lot of parents have put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears," said Cunningham. "We still have a long ways to go with inclusion, but they've done a good majority of the work."
Cunningham said that Greater Sudbury experienced a "baby boom" between 2012-2013 in the birth of babies with Down Syndrome. This demographic bubble means there is a significant number of students with Down Syndrome still within the primary school system, where government health insurance covers such services as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.
This coverage means fundraising by DSAS can be channelled to support its members in other aspects of their lives, which could include additional mental, spiritual, and physical therapy, as well as assistance in finding suitable living arrangements, employment and activities.
"Our family members with Down Syndrome, all they want in life (is) to get married, they want to be in the workforce, they want to be involved in their community," said Cunningham. "They need a sense of purpose like the rest of us."
Anyone within the community interested in hiring an individual with Down Syndrome, or who would like to get involved in finding a solution to other social situations faced by this population, is asked to get in touch with DSAS.
DSAS is in the process of revamping its organization to better suit the needs of its members said Cunningham, with a formal board of directors that she said will facilitate big changes for the group moving forward. Including she hopes, to act as the contact between businesses and DSAS members to facilitate employment.