GREAT FALLS — For the first time in 10 years, the annual "Under The Big Sky Buddy Walk" in Great Falls will take place virtually. This year, participants will walk on their own - and instead of just happening on one day, this year it will be all month long throughout September.
The goal of the Buddy Walk is to raise awareness and promote acceptance of people with Down syndrome.
As organizer of the annual Under The Big Sky Buddy Walk, Joan Redeen normally gets hundreds of people together for the walk. But this year, for the sake of social distancing, she’s asking people to walk a quarter of a mile each week in September on their own or in small groups for a total of one mile by the end of the month.
Walkers from all over can log their mileage anywhere during any day, each week during the month of September. This way, more people can participate if they so choose. Since participants will be doing so apart from others, they are encouraged to share photos of their weekly ¼ mile walk on Facebook, for a chance to win prizes and to create a sense of togetherness.
“Even though we will be walking apart, we will be working hard to create a spirit of community by sharing our weekly walks on our Facebook page. We encourage you to check our page each week for the activity, take your walk and share your photos so we can share in one another’s walks together,” Redeen said.
“Individuals with Down syndrome actually are the largest majority for special needs for chromosomal anomalies. So we have always felt like if we can promote awareness and acceptance and inclusion of individuals with Down syndrome then we’re hoping all individuals who have special needs,” Redeen said.
"That’s our goal, to try and let folks know that our family members who have Down syndrome and our family members who have special needs are just as important important as everybody else. (They’re) entitled to work in this community and contribute to this community.”
Her son Jared and his friend, Jamie Darko, welcome the opportunity to participate in the walk.
"‘Come out and walk with us’” Redeen said to her son when he was asked what he likes about the walks. “And have fun,” her son chimed in. "And have fun. That’s his famous line,” his mother added.
“I love to walk because it’s good for my knees and my arms,” said Darko.
Joan said people as far away as Pennsylvania, Florida, California, and Arizona are all walking in support of the Under the Big Sky Buddy Walk. “Are we raising awareness? That is my hope, and I will continue to do it whether I think I’m achieving that goal or not,” Joan said.
Redeen believes participation in this walk can benefit not just those with Down’s Syndrome but all people with special needs. “Down’s Syndrome is one of the most common chromosomal disabilities and so what I’ve often said is if we can help support our community of individuals with down syndrome, then we are benefiting the community of individuals with special needs as a whole,” Redeen said.
As a way to ensure the future of the Under The Big Sky Buddy Walk, Redeem asks that participants purchase $15 event shirts. Shirts must be ordered before September 5th so they can be mailed out while the walk is happening. Click here for details on ordering a shirt.