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Families of people with Down syndrome unite for support, socializing

Families of people with Down syndrome unite for support, socializing

By Shana Gruskin
Staff Writer

October 8, 2001

When Jillian Chamberlain was born nine months ago, her parents had done as much computer research as they could to prepare for a baby with Down syndrome.

But they still ached for the emotional give-and-take that comes from interacting with other parents of Down syndrome children.

On Sunday, during the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization's seventh annual Buddy Walk, the Chamberlains got more than their share of that.

"Basically, we're building a family for the future," said Kimberly Chamberlain of West Palm Beach.

The Buddy Walk is a national event designed to increase awareness and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. It's also a chance for families and friends to get together for music, food, pony rides and water balloon tosses.

This year, between 400 and 450 people attended the 11/2-mile walk at John Prince Park in Lake Worth, said Sue Davis-Killian, the Buddy Walk chairwoman. That's 100 more than last year. Davis-Killian said she expected this year's walk to raise about $12,000 for the organization.

The money helps support the local activities, informational resources for new parents like the Chamberlains and educational and advocacy services. All of that has come in handy for the family of 10-year-old Jaime Torres, who moved to Boca Raton from Chicago three years ago.

Jaime's mother, Lupe Torres, used the organization to help her decide where to send her son to school and whether to try to have him included in a regular classroom. Torres said Sunday the assistance, and support, has been invaluable.

"It makes him feel like he is just a regular kid," she said of Jaime's school environment. "He learns from the other kids."

Richard Garetano, who lives west of Boynton Beach, said his son, Richard Jr., 12, has gained the same experience by being included in a typical classroom.

"Years ago, when you were a kid you really didn't know much about Down syndrome," Garetano said. "They were known as Mongoloid and they were separated from you."

But his son, he said, interacts on a daily basis with children who do not have disabilities. At school, he plays volleyball with them and runs track with them. "The kids cheer him on," Garetano said.

Lyndon Johnson of Delray Beach said the organization helped him and his wife grapple with the news that their son, Evan, now 6, had Down syndrome.

"You were in shock for a while until you understood what this meant," Johnson said.

Since then, the family has watched in amazement as their son transforms everyone he comes in contact with.

"It was very difficult to get him into school," said Johnson, a computer science professor at Palm Beach Community College. "Once he did get there, oh my goodness. I think he gives people what they don't see every day. He looks at people and he smiles at them and he's so willing to hug and show love."

Shana Gruskin can be reached at sgruskin@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6537.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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