Founded in 2001, FRIENDS offers support and encouragement to families raising Down syndrome children. Soon after little Zaylei had successful open heart surgery, Misty and her family became very active members of FRIENDS. She has been the president of the organization for five years and continues to work hard to help support other families with Down syndrome members.
Down syndrome occurs in approximately one out of every 700 births. Raising a child with Down syndrome carries its own unique challenges such as countless speech therapy appointments and education issues.
“Education is something you take for granted,” Misty said. Their first daughter, Addi, is in the second grade at the same school as her sister. Zaylei is a full inclusion student, meaning she is in a regular classroom with other Pre-K students. “When you have a typical child, you know they’re going to go to school. But with a child of special needs, sometimes you have to fight for their education,” said Misty.
Despite the challenges, Misty said that there are many blessings. “You learn to celebrate every milestone, because they have to work 10 times harder than other kids have to,” she said.
Misty cited her friendships with other FRIENDS members as another special blessing. “Because of FRIENDS, I now have friends that totally understand,” she said. “The support system is unreal; we’re family,” she added.
To promote community understanding and awareness about people affected by Down syndrome, FRIENDS sponsors several special events throughout the year. The annual Buddy Walk® and 5-K Buddy Run fundraisers help to support various programs that benefit members.
FRIENDS also organizes fun family activities for members to attend such as a barn dance, swim social, Christmas social, movies and shows, Mom’s Night Out and Dad’s Night Out.
The Buddy Walk®, their largest fundraiser of the year, will be held in Sept. 15 at ETSU. Established in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society, The Buddy Walk® promotes awareness of people with Down syndrome.
ETSU women’s basketball coach Brittney Ezell will be the grand marshal of the walk this year. The event will also include special activities for children such as a photo booth, inflatables and face painting. Vendors will be present, and there will be raffle prizes, music and food. Proceeds received from the Buddy Walk® event will help to fund the many events members attend throughout the year, as well as provide educational seminars and financial assistance to families.
“Every event that our group does is paid for by FRIENDS,” Misty said. “Last year, we raised nearly $40,000, and hope for the same this year.”
Besides the financial importance of the fundraiser for FRIENDS, Misty said their main goal is community involvement. “Inclusion is very, very important. Our kids want to do everything everyone else does,” she said. “They’re more alike than they are different. We want people to come out and see that.”
The Buddy Walk® will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sept. 15 at the ETSU CPA Front Yard, located at 1244 Jack Vest Drive in Johnson City. Admission is $20 for adults (ages 13 and up) and $10 for children (ages 3-12). Volunteers and vendors are needed. Vendor forms can be accessed on the website at www.dsfriends.net/buddy-walk and volunteers can email [email protected] for more details.
FRIENDS relies solely on charitable donations and volunteers. Please join them by sharing your time, talents and resources, and by supporting this memorable event. For more information about FRIENDS, call (423) 946-3734 or email [email protected]