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Hundreds walk at UND Wellness Center to support those with Down syndrome

The love and joy could be felt Saturday in UND's Wellness Center as hundreds came out to support a local organization dedicated to helping those living with Down syndrome.

More than 600 people showed their support for those with Down syndrome during a Buddy Walk on Saturday at the UND Wellness Center in Grand Forks. (Grand Forks Herald)
More than 600 people showed their support for those with Down syndrome during a Buddy Walk on Saturday at the UND Wellness Center in Grand Forks. (Grand Forks Herald)

The love and joy could be felt Saturday in UND's Wellness Center as hundreds came out to support a local organization dedicated to helping those living with Down syndrome.

More than 600 participants walked in a circle around a community room, jamming to music and smiling as they showed their support for the Greater Grand Forks chapter of Better Understanding of Down Syndrome, or BUDS. Saturday's turnout for the annual Buddy Walk, which exceeded last year's attendance of 500, was overwhelming, event co-chair Jody Haug said.

"It shows us that our mission is being accomplished here in Grand Forks and that there is inclusion on this day," she said.

The event is used to raise funds for BUDS of Greater Grand Forks so it can hold activities throughout the year. That includes bringing experts in to educate families about Down syndrome, a genetic disorder diagnosed in individuals who have a full or partial extra copy of the 21st chromosome. This typically alters the course of development and can cause intellectual disabilities and health issues. It's estimated one in 691 people are born with Down syndrome, making it the most common genetic disorder, according to the National Down Syndrome Society, which established the nationwide Buddy Walk in 1995.

The walk celebrates National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, which is October, by having participants walking 21 minutes to signify the 21st chromosome affected by the condition.

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When the event came to Grand Forks about 10 years ago, it had 30 walkers, Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown said during the event. The growth over the past decade has shown just how supportive the Greater Grand Forks area is to the cause and of those with Down syndrome.

"We really want to push inclusion and acceptance, and that's the most important thing," Haug said.

For Brown, the event was all about inclusion, having a positive impact on those with Down syndrome and their families, as well as inspiring love and opportunities.

"We appreciate every ounce of effort that goes into holding this event," he said as he thanked coordinators, volunteers, participants and families who live with the disorder, pointing out how much the community supports those families after they have been through so much. "There are times when a person can feel beaten down and feel obstacles are too hard to overcome and the path forward is difficult, but looking around here today, knowing all of you are around and seeing these smiles, I can't help but be excited about our future."

The event is expected to raise about $15,000, with 7 percent going to the national BUDS organization and the rest going to the Greater Grand Forks chapter.

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