The countdown has begun for the much-anticipated 20th Annual Buddy Walk, an event that brings together communities, families, and individuals to celebrate inclusivity, raise awareness, and promote understanding of individuals with Down syndrome. With just a few weeks left until the walk, one local family shares their excitement for the meaningful event.
Meet Emma Dymek, a senior at Bishop England High School and a member of the school’s Options program. The program, established in 2007, is designed to provide an inclusive educational experience for students with intellectual disabilities. Each year, Emma and her friends in the program come together to celebrate each other and those who share the same experience.
“For her, it’s like a big birthday party,” said Emma’s mother, Belinda Dymek.
Ever since moving from Atlanta to Daniel Island eight years ago, the Dymeks have experienced the island’s inclusivity and community surrounding the Buddy Walk. Dymek shares that the event is like a grand celebration where the day is all about her daughter. Emma’s favorite part is getting up on stage with the live music playing and singing along.
Scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 15, at Etiwan Park on Daniel Island, the Buddy Walk stands as a testament to the strength and resilience of kids, teenagers, and adults with Down syndrome. It also serves as a vital platform to raise awareness and funds for the Down Syndrome Association of the Lowcountry (DSAL), an organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by Down syndrome. Bishop England High School proudly fields one of the largest teams at the event.
Kristen Common, the director of the BE Options program, shares her sentiment: “Each year the Buddy Walk promotes community awareness about the potential of children living with Down syndrome. Our Bishop England students living with Down syndrome are competent and capable and it is so important for the Charleston community to recognize them as productive citizens who bring joy and positivity to others.”
The Buddy Walk is a testament to the unwavering support that the entire BE family provides to the Options program students. The program is what brought the Dymeks to Daniel Island eight years ago. Because of the students in Options, Dymek says Emma has made lifelong friends.
“Emma is a magnet to people. Because of the [Options] program and the walk, she feels like she’s accepted everywhere.”
Beyond the school community, DSAL finds inspiration in Bishop England’s steadfast participation in the Buddy Walk. Erica Chiovarou, DSAL president, enthuses, “The walk is a chance to celebrate all of our local community members with Down syndrome as well as their support team that ‘walks’ with them the other 364 days of the
year too. Our members come out to the walk with family, friends, classmates, coworkers, teachers, therapists, neighbors, and more.”
This year, the Buddy Walk is expected to have 1,500 people in attendance. DSAL’s mission extends to supporting children with Down syndrome, adults, and their families through various programs, including youth camps, educational workshops, social activities, and scholarships for aspiring college students. As the primary fundraiser for the walk, DSAL supports approximately 300 families in the Tri-county area, and this year’s Buddy Walk aims to raise $40,000, crucial for supporting these programs.
The Buddy Walk festivities, running from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., culminate with the 1-mile fun walk through the neighborhood, commencing at 3 p.m. Those in attendance can enjoy face painting, arts and crafts, Kona Ice and live music performed by Soul Fish Duo. Local marching bands and spirited cheerleaders lead the fun walk, creating a “tunnel” to celebrate individuals with Down syndrome of all ages.
The Buddy Walk embodies the innate joy of this tight-knit community, celebrating the individual journeys of its members. It’s a day to acknowledge the resilience and acceptance that define the Down syndrome community.
Dymek shares that although this is a day for her daughter, she also sees it as a celebration for all the parents who chose life for their child with Down syndrome. “There’s such a large number of children that don’t even have the opportunity to be born. To me, seeing these parents willing to make that choice of life for their child and
willing to take that journey with them, I feel like I’m celebrating with them all.”
For more information on Buddy Walk 2023, including how to register or make a donation in support of the event, visit the DSAL website at dsalowcountry.org.
Lowcountry Buddy Walk
Etiwan Park, Daniel Island
Sunday, Oct. 15, 12-4 p.m. (1-mile walk starts at 3 p.m.)
To benefit the Down Syndrome Association of the Lowcountry.
Registration is $12 and includes a t-shirt and event activities. Registrants are also eligible to win online and fundraising prizes. Participants with Down syndrome can register for free. You can walk as an individual or family – or create or join a team. For more information, visit dsalowcountry.org.