About 180 people from across Vermont gathered in Burlington’s Battery Park on Sunday, September 26, for the annual Champlain Valley Down Syndrome Group Buddy Walk.
The message they wanted to share?
“Folks with Down syndrome can do what everyone else does,” said Joe McNamara, one of the organizers. “That’s really what we’re trying to promote.”
McNamara was there with his 21-year-old daughter, Caroline, who has Down syndrome and attends Think College Vermont at the University of Vermont, just like other young adults her age.
Many families walked alongside children and relatives with Down syndrome, who ranged in age from 20 months to 23 years old. Some, like Kate Lohutko, were attending the annual event for the first time.
“It’s just knowing that there’s other people out there and that we’re not on our own,” said Lohutko while holding her son, Carter Dion-Lohutko, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at 4 weeks old, right before the coronavirus pandemic.
Others were repeat walkers, like Janice Russotti and her 15-year-old daughter, Sophia Russotti Pigeon. “We were here for the very first Buddy Walk 11 years ago, back when Sophia was only 4,” said Janice. “We want everyone to know that people with Down syndrome are more alike than different.”
The group made the one-mile trek from Battery Park and looped around Waterfront Park. The front leaders carried a Buddy Walk banner; one walker simultaneously held a radio and danced to music as he went.
Kids VT multimedia journalist Cat Cutillo recorded the event and spoke with participants about why they walked.