By Jill Keppeler
Niagara Gazette — It’s time for me to get up on my soapbox again. It’s time to don those lime-green T-shirts. It’s time to haul the family out to Lewiston, wave to the crowd, throw candy and carry balloons.
It’s time to walk.
The Family & Friends Down Syndrome Association of Niagara will host its 17th Buddy Walk on Saturday as part of the Peach Festival parade, which starts at 11 a.m. in Lewiston. The Keppeler (and Morrison) families — with now-8-year-old Jim as our guest of honor — will, for the sixth time, participate in the walk.
Over the years, it’s become a family tradition and an anticipated fall event. That lime-green shirt that used to swim on Jim is now getting just a bit small. He’s looking forward to it, mostly because he remembers getting balloons, seeing the fire trucks in the parade or the promise of carnival rides at the festival or Hibbard’s Frozen Custard before we leave.
Me? I look forward to it for other reasons.
It’s a celebration, really. A way to tell the world this kid is great, even if he’s a little different. (Newsflash: We’re all a little different. Thank God.) And that our family is not alone.
Christine Sirianni, founder, president and treasurer of the Family & Friends Down Syndrome Association of Niagara, said she expects this year’s walk to be one of the biggest yet, with one participating family bringing more than 30 members.
“We just need to continue that positive awareness,” Sirianni said. “There are still the naysayers, still disbelievers. We still have to dispel the negative stereotype and opinions people have.”
Not only does the group want to bust those negative stereotypes, they want to highlight the positives — in the very person of people with Down Syndrome (like Jim) and the ranks of those who love them.
“We’re there to reach out to new and expectant parents to give them a balanced picture,” she said. “We want them to (see) a hopeful and balanced picture: That life can be fulfilling.”
Fulfulling, heck. I watch my boy, so happy to be back to school, so gleeful when he can mess with his little brother (who’s an easy target, honestly), so beloved of his grandparents, so proud when he masters a new skill and I want to tell the world what a great kid I have. What a great life he has (if I may brag so much). And what a great future he has ahead of him.
The Buddy Walk gives us a chance to march down Center Street and proclaim it to the world (or at least Lewiston). Is it always easy? No. But if parenthood is easy in any respect, for any kid, you’re probably doing it wrong anyway.
We’ll take our challenges — and the joys along with them. Life is never boring.
Later this month, we’ll also be taking part in the Step Up for Down Syndrome walk from Coca-Cola Field to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval Park (and back) in Buffalo as part of the Down Syndrome Parent Group of Western New York. It’s another day of celebrating the differences, another day of sharing the positives.
So, to borrow from a earlier column, if you’re at the parade Saturday, give us a wave.
I can’t guarantee Jim will wave back. He might be pushing his brother, or chattering to his grandpa, or trying to swipe some candy, or any number of other little-boy things.
But I’ll tell you this: All those people walking with him, whether they have Down Syndrome or love someone with it dearly, will appreciate it.
I know I will.
Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.