MOSES LAKE — It was a good afternoon for a buddy walk.
The sun was bright, and while it was a little windy, it wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t too cold.
And for the hundreds of people gathered in McCosh Park on Saturday, that’s exactly what they were there for — to show support for people with Down syndrome and their families for the sixth annual Columbia Basin Buddy Walk, organized by the Down Syndrome Society of Grant County.
“We’re here with a bunch of our friends because we actually know Adam (Aubart) and (his wife) Vanessa,” said Molly Hoghaug, who along with her husband Thomas and their two small children Henry and Benny came all the way from Tacoma to be in Moses Lake.
“A while bunch of us came over for the weekend for the Buddy Walk,” she said.
“I teach adaptive PE as well, in Tacoma, and I have several students with Down syndrome,” Thomas added.
The local Buddy Walk was first staged in 2013 as a high school project and is modeled after other Buddy Walks held across the country. The goal is to “interact with, and support” people with Down syndrome and their families.
“It gets the word out that these wonderful, wonderful kids are just lovable, kind, sweet people,” said Carol Bierman, who came all the way from San Diego to support her grandson Gevin. “In most ways, they’re pretty normal. They’re just normal people.”
“They can do pretty well everything everyone else can do!” said Gevin’s other grandmother, Linda Boswell, who came all the way from Kingman, Ariz., to be part of the day’s festivities.
There was dancing, a flag salute, 150 large Domino’s pizzas and a keynote address from Sara Jo Soldovieri, the manager of inclusive education programming for the National Down Syndrome Society in Washington, D.C.
Soldovieri said she became interested in advocating for people with Down syndrome after one of her best friends in grade school and middle school, a girl with Down syndrome named Kathy, was not allowed to go to high school with her friends.
“I watched her lose her ability to speak,” Soldovieri said during a presentation at the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center Friday evening. “That is where my passion for inclusive education began.”
Soldovieri said that inclusive education — intentionally planning for the success of all students while teaching everyone in the same classrooms and schools — allows people with intellectual disabilities to learn social skills, makes them more resilient and less dependent and encourages acceptance and spirit, as well as teaching people to treat each other better.
“School placement determines quality of life. Segregation in schools almost certainly means segregation in life,” Soldovieri said. “It makes the chances of full lives, independent lives, much less likely.”
Including disabled children in “regular” classrooms also makes it possible for them to develop friendships and become a part of the community.
“Developing friendships is something parents of disabled kids want the most,” she said.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.