Melissa Fitch can still remember taking her son, Ryan, to the Buddy Walk in Los Angeles.
Her son, who was nine at the time, was walking through the festival and saw a boy and turned to his mom and said, “He has my face.”
Ms. Fitch, the founder of the Down Syndrome Association of Santa Barbara County, recalled looking at her friend and both agreed they needed to start a local event.
“And so it began,” she told the News-Press during a recent phone interview. “And here we are, ten years later.”
Ryan, now 17, has become somewhat the face of the local organization. The Dos Pueblos High student has Down syndrome but hasn’t let that get in the way of doing extraordinary things. He swims for the school swim team and also works part-time at Old Town Coffee in Goleta.
Now celebrating its 10th year, the annual Buddy Walk will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Chase Palm Park.
“We are about bringing families together and enjoying each other,” Ms. Fitch said. “It’s great for new parents to see those of us with children of various ages and to just know that everything is going to be fine.
It’s a great journey, and we’re all in it together.”
The event serves as a benefit for the Down Syndrome Association of Santa Barbara County, which is focused on fostering inclusion and raising awareness for all those with special needs and their families in our community.
There will be no shortage of activities, including carnival-style games, crafts, silent auction, raffles, face painting, vendors and informational booths.There will also be a short walk around the park to promote acceptance and inclusion of all of those with Down syndrome.
The event will feature blues and country musicians Pryor Baird of NBC’s The Voice, as well as Superstoked, Hector Hurtado, Jamey Geston, Sofia Guerro and Teen Star singers McKenna Gemberling, Kimberly Syers and Audrey Harmand.
Ms. Geston, who is the niece of actor Jeff Bridges, performed at the first Buddy Walk when she was nine and tries to make it back as much as she can, Ms. Fitch said.
Registration fees are $25 for adults, $15 for adults with Down syndrome and $10 for children ages three to 17. The registration includes admission to the festival, an event t-shirt, lunch, snacks and access to all activities. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
The net proceeds from the event allow the association to support new and expectant parents, enrichment programs, activities, parent support and to enhance the lives of all those who are differently-abled.