‘IT’S REALLY JUST THE PERFECT DAY’
Pryor Baird can still remember the first time he met Ryan Fitch, who has become the spokesman for the annual Buddy Walk hosted by the Down Syndrome Association of Santa Barbara County.
“He’s just a sweet kid,” Mr. Baird told the News-Press. “I just remember his smile, his positivity and the beauty in
his eyes. He was just so positive and happy all the time. He’s just inspirational.”
Mr. Baird, who competed on NBC’s “The Voice” last year, was one of several musical performers for the annual event, which
celebrated its 10th year Saturday at Chase Palm Park.
When Mr. Baird took the stage, Ryan was close behind. He sat on the stage and took a few videos on his cellphone as Mr. Baird altered the lyrics to several of his songs to include Ryan.
Mr. Baird then played several of his own songs, including one of
his newer ones titled “I Wouldn’t Be Anywhere Else But Here” – fitting given Saturday’s event.
As he closed his set, Mr. Baird called all the kids to the stage.
They posed for photos before the group grabbed the “Buddy Walk” banner and made their way around the park.
“It’s all about the kids, man,” Mr. Baird said.
“It should be about them all the time. Putting a smile on their face, putting a smile on everybody’s face. Just enjoy life.”
As the group exited the park for the walk, several of the parents and adults in attendance thanked Mr. Baird, including one man who said that the musical artist helped him get through the death of his father.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Mr. Baird said. “Getting an emotion from somebody … I just love it.”
Tents and vendors were spread throughout the park, offering food and drinks, ice cream, cotton candy and more. There were hula hoops, a photo booth, lawn bowling, ski ball, a bubble machine and mini golf.
Melissa Fitch, founder of the host organization, told the News-Press that the event is all about bringing people together, including those who with special needs.
Many of the families that attended Saturday’s event have been doing so for several years.
Sonny Herrera, 9, of Ventura, attended his first event when he was just 7 months old. His team, “Hooray
for Sonny,” included more than 20 family members, who have all rallied to support Sonny.
“It’s his day. He’s super excited about it so everybody looks forward to it,” said his mother, Mandi.
Sonny is typically a shy boy who wears headphones almost everywhere he goes – except the Buddy Walk.
“Every day he has his challenges and every day we’re working on his behavior in school and this and that… and with this there is none of that,” Mandi said. “You just run and eat ice cream.
It’s just play and have fun.”
She admitted she is normally a “helicopter mom,” always running around and checking on her son, but said events like the Buddy Walk provide a fun and safe atmosphere for everyone involved.
“Every booth has people who understand why they’re here so they’re welcoming to him and talk to him. It’s just awesome
to see everybody interact with him,” she said.
“He is the light of this family,” she explained.
“It’s so awesome that my family comes together and is just as excited as him and his extra chromosome. We’re always talking about his extra this and extra that … my whole family loves to come and celebrate it.”
It was also a huge celebration for the King family from Fillmore.
Friends and family were dressed in gray shirts for “Team King Mason” in recognition of 6-year-old Mason King.
The family has attended the event for the past five years and it has become a celebration that they can all get behind.
Mason used to be shy and timid and didn’t enjoy large crowds. The Buddy Walk helped him turn one of his fears into a strength, said his dad, Ronnie.
“Now he uses the crowd for himself,” Ronnie said.
“It’s fun every time we come out here and it’s perfect for the kids. With Mason, he has his days but he always loves this.”
This spring, Mason played his first year of baseball in Fillmore, and his family members joked that he may have been the best behaved player on the team.
Ronnie said they try to treat Mason the same as his other two sons, who both have had a great influence on Mason.
“The best thing for him is his brothers,” Ronnie said.
“Whatever his brothers do, that’s what he wants to do. He follows
Tammy Gerenser, whose daughter Gracie was running around and dancing, was appreciative of the work that Ms. Fitch does with Saturday’s event and throughout the year to build a bond and create a connection with the
local special-needs community.
Ms. Gerenser said her family was expecting to take a trip to Bass Lake in Madera County but had to cancel last minute.
Gracie welcomed the change of plans, allowing her to rekindle old friendships and enjoy being a kid.
“There’s just a different connection,” Ms. Gerenser said. “It’s really just the perfect day.”