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Annual "Buddy Walk" raises awareness of Down syndrome

PLATTSBURGH Ten years ago, when Tracy J. and Cynthia M. Rotz learned their son Brett was born with Down syndrome, they weren't faced with many options.

"We were given pamphlets about either having him institutionalized, or starting a Buddy Walk," Mrs. Rotz said in support of her son's genetic disorder. "You can see which one we picked."

Mrs. Rotz spoke those words Sunday afternoon as she stood at the center of hundreds who turned out to support the 10th annual Buddy Walk at Melissa L. Penfield Park.

Kicking off with a jump from members of the Malone Parachute Club, walkers came together to support families like the Rotzes and the North Country Down Syndrome Association. It's support Mr. Rotz never thought he'd see.

"Ten years ago, I had no idea what Down syndrome really was," said the Rotz family patriarch. "Now it's amazing the support you see and the information that is out there."

Though the annual Buddy Walk started locally in 1998, a national walk was established in 1995. The primary focus of establishing the walk was to promote" acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome," according to www.buddywalk.org, the Web site devoted to the national walk. In addition, the timing of the walk was to celebrate October as National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

The local one-mile Buddy Walk, however, has had a jump on its national partner. Since the Plattsburgh walk was started 10 years ago, it has aimed to raise money to provide informational books about Down syndrome to new parents, health care facilities and libraries.

According to its Web site, the national Buddy Walk didn't add a fundraising component to its walk until 1999.

Among other needs, the Buddy Walk also raises money to support families who need to travel out of town for medical treatment for Down syndrome and to contribute annually to a $500 scholarship for high school seniors planning to major in special education in college.

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