By Jennifer L. Warren

Gabriela Molina has been coming to the Down Syndrome Association Hudson Valley Buddy Walk for eight years, ever since her son Nico was born. She wouldn’t miss it for anything.
For the first few years, Molina carried her son around the Dutchess Stadium field. Now, Nico, walks on his own, and is excited to do so. Surrounded by family and friends, Nico, his mother, and father Jorge, were once again thrilled to be on hand, supporting an event and cause close to their hearts.

“The inclusion is just so important; this event really brings families together, helping them discover new ways to deal with children while offering them hope and help,” said a smiling Molina. “It also creates awareness, making parents feel they are not alone.”

The day featured a host of activities. Prior to the two lap walk around the stadium, guests were treated to a continuous flow of music, multiple vendors, as well as motivating activities for children and their families. Additionally, a wide assortment of refreshments were available, including breakfast options and a pizza lunch.

Unity for the annual event is strengthened by team participation. The one raising the most money is recognized. Teams could be seen sporting an assortment of coordinated tee-shirts, carrying posters with their family or friend’s name as well as ones containing motivational messages, encouraging unity, support and love among the Down Syndrome community.

Tamara Kabemba loves the Walk so much, she has been making the trip from Tuckahoe in Westchester, New York, for the past eight years. Each time she comes with her daughter Marie, who is in the seventh grade.

“We enjoy the activities, meeting new families, and just having an overall good time,” said Kabemba. “My daughter enjoys it a whole lot; she walks all over the place, meeting people and just having a fun time being here.”

The Buddy Walk has been in existence since the 1980’s. The Down Syndrome Association Hudson Valley has been around quite some time as well. It was founded by two men, Al Maretta and Roger Dodge of Adams Fairacre Farms in Newburgh (who donated bagels). The latter was on hand at the Walk for the first time Sunday.

“This year’s Buddy Walk was extra special because Roger was there; he has been involved with it since the very beginning, and he was just amazed by how much the organization has expanded,” said Rose Lisu, Educational Coach and Outreach Coordinator for the Association. “This particular Walk was packed, so it was really nice to see so many people come out and enjoy the day.”

In addition to the popular Annual Walk, the Down Syndrome Association Hudson Valley has a variety of activities going on throughout the year. Some of those include; bowling get-togethers, ice cream socials, movie nights, welcoming new parents, and educational workshops. Regardless of the venue, the mission of the Organization remains the same.

“These events are so important because they bring people together,” explained Lisi. “They also raise awareness in the community, helping take away  negative preconceptions.”

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