Seven-year-old Julia Frye was all smiles after having walked with her family, friends and other children, who like her have Down syndrome but have the support of a community that teaches them that it will be OK.
About 1,200 participants took part in Manasota Bringing Up Down Syndrome’s 15th annual Buddy Walk at the annual Pumpkin Festival at Hunsader Farms, 5500 County Road 675, on Saturday to raise money to support numerous programs and services provided to local children and their families.
After walking a mile, though, there was still more fun to be had with a celebration and free admission to the pumpkin festival after the trek for Manasota BUDS.
But it was the two acrobats performing high in the air atop two swaying poles that stole Julia’s attention.
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“I’m not scared. I would do it,” Julia said.
She watched as the woman-man duo performed their acrobatics, even swapping poles and dangling in the air. But she had seen their performance once earlier in the day already, so she knew what came next.
“Ready. Set. Go,” Julia shouted waiting for them to slide down the poles.
She waiting anxiously and burst with excitement, shouting again, “Ready. Set. Go.”
And the acrobatic performers did not disappoint her, as they both slide down. First the man, sliding down upside, and the woman.
“I would do that,” Julia said.
Organizers set a goal of $100,000 for this year’s Buddy Walk, and as of Saturday evening, their website said they had raised more than $85,000.
“It was a real honor that I was here today,” Anita Ford, manager of the National Buddy Walk Program, said to local president Michael Feduccia.
Ford said she had decided to attend the local Manasota Buddy Walk this year after having been impressed with the work the local chapter has been doing — including the education they provide in addition to fun events.
“It’s really great when we have our affiliate leaders have such a commitment to the Buddy Walk and the community.”
The walk is held yearly at Hunsader Farms, which waives the Pumpkin Festival admission fee for participants. The Hunsader family is no stranger to Down syndrome: Their grandson Joey Baar was born with it 15 years ago.
Mary Jo and Jim Baar along with the Quaid, Underwood and Kennedy families were the ones who first came together to form a local group at a time when they said there weren’t a lot of resources locally.
Today, Manasota BUDS touches about 70 families, many of whom attend the group’s monthly meetings.
“I think it allows parents to have an early understanding that everything is going to be OK,” Him Baar said.
The importance of early intervention is something important the couple has learned, and the group tries to educate new parents, they said.
“They are more alike that different. They are capable,” said Mary Jo Baar, referring to what new parents learn about their children. “It gives them hope.”
Those who still wish to still donate can do so online, at manasotabuds.org.