Buddy Walk spreads awareness, stimulates donations – Jerry Richardson Stadium’s first-ever community event brings Charlotte together through common interest in Down syndrome support

Although lightning and rain threatened to shut down the event, the Buddy Walk was successfully completed by more than 2,100 walkers on Saturday, Oct. 11. This was the first community event to be held at Jerry Richardson Stadium, the university’s 2-year-old football stadium.

Buddy Walk, hosted by the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte (DSAGC), is a national event that has gone on for more than 20 years.

The walk began in Charlotte about 16 years ago, when it was held Uptown at Freedom Park. The walk has taken place at the same location each year since its start in Charlotte. As the event has drawn larger crowds each year, it outgrew its original home and the group had to seek out a new one.

“It has been incredible. Everyone is talking about how beautiful it is here. And there’s so much room, so we can really grow as an organization, because someday I would like to have 10,000 people at our buddy walk, you know? We’re very much hoping that UNC Charlotte invites us to come back,” said Executive Director for DSAGC Kathryn Larirviere on the new location.

In regards to her feelings about walking at the stadium, Lauren Barringer, mother to Gavin Barringer, of ‘Gavin’s Gang’ commented, “We like it, we’re excited. I actually attended and graduated from here as did my mom and brother, so we’ve got some ties to it, and we’re excited to have it here.”

The organization’s largest annual fundraiser is held each year to raise funds for DSAGC so that they are able to take their members to do fun activities throughout the year such as a sleep away camp in the mountains, a day camp in Charlotte, conferences with national speakers, summer picnics and holiday parties.

“The purpose of Buddy Walk is twofold. Part of it is to be a fundraiser for the local organization, and part of it is to create community awareness. The idea of getting 3,000 people together, some of them having Down syndrome, all mixed in is to show that gone are the days when people with Down syndrome were locked in the attic or in the basement of the school, you know? They’re now out in your schools and they’re part of your community, and the Buddy Walk really is designed to show that. They’re more alike than different,” said Lariviere.

The walk began as attendees lined up behind the stadium’s press box and made their way around the outside of the location, coming down a ramp which unveiled a ballooned archway on the field to serve as the finish line.

In total, the walk was less than a mile long. Laneviere shared that the reason for having such a short distance was so that people of all disabilities would be able to join in on the walk.

Beyond the finish line on the football field was a variety of activities for guests to participate in during the remainder of the event.

UNC Charlotte’s Student Athlete Council and Athletic Department provided footballs for walkers to throw and kick field goals with, as well as tackle dummies. DSAGC also provided face paint, bounce houses and other activities for children.

Although Lariviere’s goal of raising $225,000 has not been reached, she shared that they have raised $190,000 so far. It was also mentioned that their website, which collects donations, will be open until the end of the year, so donors can continue to support the cause for months to come. Laniviere also mentioned that corporations tend to match or even double donations made during and before the walk.

Lariviere’s son, Cameron Lariviere, even had his own Buddy Walk team. Cameron played a large role in his mom’s involvement at DSAGC. When he was born nine years ago, Lariviere did not know that her son would have Down syndrome. Once he was born, she joined the organization as a volunteer and a year later, volunteered on the board of directors. Two and a half years ago, Larivire finally stepped into her current role as executive director.

“The more people that I have met with Down syndrome, and the more families I have met, I just feel such a connection to them and such a desire to help them,” said Larivire. “My goal is that someday my son is going to walk down the street and people are going to just look at him and look past. They’re not gonna stare at him. They’re not gonna care, because he’s just like everybody else and it’s going to be something they don’t notice.”

“You know, this event really is to show people that individuals with Down syndrome are part of their community. We want people to see that. They’re out here, they’re having fun, they’re just like everybody else.”

To donate online, visit: http://ds.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.donate&eventID=521

Photos by Chris Crews.

Read more here: http://nineronline.com/2014/10/buddy-walk-spreads-awareness-stimulates-donations/
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