(GREAT FALLS) Scores of people turned out for the ninth annual Under the Big Sky Buddy Walk, which advocates for people with Down syndrome.
Around 280 people walked a mile on the University of Providence campus. While walking, participants read information about Down syndrome such as that it’s the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition.
Melissa McQuillen’s family attended the Buddy Walk for Melissa’s daughter, 10-month-old Ellie, who was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. Melissa stressed the importance of learning about the genetic disorder.
“We knew nothing about it and we’re very surprised, kind of a scary world, and I don’t want other people to feel that way,” she said. “I want it to be more of a norm. I want to raise awareness and advocacy and show inclusion for all people.”
Melissa said the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network was an important resource for her and inspired the hashtag, #elevateellie, which she and her family members wore on their t-shirts for the Buddy Walk.
“When I was pregnant and kind of looking for resources, I found the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network and just a whole bunch of really supportive moms all going through the same thing,” she said. “All of the moms that were in the 2017 birth group all came up with hashtags for their kiddos and so “ElevateEllie” was ours and just raising awareness for her to elevate her.”
According to organizer Joan Redeen, the most important part of the Buddy Walk is to show advocacy in the community.
“If we can help support the individuals in the community that have Down syndrome, we can help all of the community of individuals that have special needs,” she said on September 5th.
The Buddy Walk also consisted of music, pizza, and a visit from Orbit, the Great Falls Voyagers’ mascot.
For more information about Down syndrome or Buddy Walks, please visit the National Down Syndrome Society’s website.
- Reported by Natalie McAlpine