Buddy Walk promotes love, acceptance of Down syndrome community

Promote love, acceptance of Down syndrome community

NILES — It might be another 40 years before Halley’s Comet is visible to the naked eye, though Hailee’s Comet was highly visible and vibrant to many eyes.

“Hailee has taught acceptance, true love and patience,” Jan Hunt of East Liverpool said, referring to her 15-year-old daughter, Hailee Joy, who has Down syndrome.

The teen, her mother and her grandmother, Sandra Minor, also of East Liverpool, were among those who made up Hailee’s Comet, one of more than 100 teams that were part of the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley’s 16th annual Buddy Walk on Sunday at Eastwood Field.

When she’s not walking the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ field’s perimeter with hundreds of others of all ages to promote greater acceptance of those with the condition and raise funds for DSAV’s programs and services, Hailee might be enjoying basketball, dancing, attending school or having a burger, soda and french fries at a McDonald’s restaurant. Since art also is one of her passions, Hailee can be found on occasion with a paintbrush in hand.

Another important lesson Hailee has imparted on her mother and other family members is the value of “taking in all the moments” and moving at a slower pace through a fast-paced society, Hunt explained.

“He’s full of energy, full of life. He loves to dance and play cornhole,” Brian Koeppen of Youngstown said about his son, Brayden Koeppen, 12, who also has Down syndrome and attends Potential Development Middle School.

Brayden’s interests don’t stop there, however. They also include a wide-ranging love of music that spans the genres from R&B and pop singer Bruno Mars to a bit of heavy metal, as well as “anything he can dance to, pretty much,” his father said.

In addition, Brayden will have a new teacher this year at his school, Brian Koeppen continued.

Hundreds of people creating a sea of yellow T-shirts walked outside of and several laps around the inside of Eastwood Field on a mostly cloudy day with temperatures in the low 70s. Most were on teams that included Walkin’ for Wesley, Bean’s Battle Buddies, Sam I Am, Awesome Austin, Team Gabby, Elyse’s Stars, Seth’s All Star Squad, Layne’s Highway, Team Tyler, Reagan’s Rayz, Curtis’s Circle of Friends, Lovin’ Lauren and Noah’s Net.

Holding a large banner, and leading the walk, were Austintown siblings Michael, Marcus, Matty and Marlena Timmerman, three of whom have Down syndrome.

The siblings are part of the Timmerman Trio team that has raised slightly more than $13,800 since beginning fundraising efforts in March on behalf of DSAV, their mother, Sandee Timmerman, noted.

“This is such a good cause,” she said.

The Buddy Walk is the primary yearly fundraiser for DSAV, which serves mainly those in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio as well as Lawrence, Mercer and Butler counties in Pennsylvania. The event also raises funds via sponsors, entrance fees, pledges and a basket raffle that was part of Sunday’s gathering.

This year’s goal was $125,000, but early estimates indicated the Buddy Walk brought in about $137,000, Debbie Williams, DSAV’s operations manager, noted. Also, last year’s $100,000 goal was reached, she said.

In addition, Sunday’s 90-minute Buddy Walk featured 25 to 30 more teams than last year’s event, Williams continued.

One of DSAV’s newest additions is a yoga cardio drumming program, which is a low-impact workout with an exercise ball and drumsticks for drumming to the beat of the music, she explained.

Benefits of such a program include improving cardiovascular well-being, lowering anxiety and stress, increasing strength and endurance, and improving coordination, according to DSAV’s website.

The nonprofit organization also has a variety of programs for new and expectant parents as well as cooking and nutrition, along with numerous social events. In addition, DSAV provides family medical grants.

“We believe everybody deserves a chance to reach their potential. This is Christmas for them,” Williams said, referring to the Buddy Walk.

For more information, visit DSAV’s website, www.dsav.org.

The event also included a disc jockey and dancing, face painting, inflatable bounce houses, Aut Mori Grotto clowns, mascots and various games.


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