9th annual Down syndrome walk unites Waco families, friends

Student volunteers helped host the 9th annual walk for National Down Syndrome Awareness Day in Waco Sunday at Hewitt Park. Photo courtesy of Stephy Mahoney

By Stephy Mahoney | Staff Writer

For the past nine years, the Heart of Texas Down Syndrome Network has organized a walk to raise awareness for World Down Syndrome Day.

Families and friends gathered Sunday at Hewitt Park for the celebration of Down syndrome with refreshments, games and bonding for students who fight to be included.

Alice Kingston, president of the Heart of Texas Down Syndrome Network, said she started this event when she moved to Waco in 2008 and realized her son with Down syndrome had no resources available to him.

Kingston said the event promotes Down syndrome awareness for the entire community to help support and connect with kids in their local area. Kingston said this event is significant in giving back to the community and helping people feel more connected to each other and ultimately celebrate the wonderful individuals they are.

She said this year’s event is different because it is being held close to World Down Syndrome Day.

“This is the first event we have had since COVID-19,” Kingston said. “We typically do the event in October, because that is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, but this year we are doing it closer to World Down Syndrome Day, which is March 21, representing the 21st chromosome.”

When she spoke to KCENtv, Kingston said it’s inspiring to see Wacoans show up to the walk in support of Down syndrome.

“This day serves to help children feel included, supported and celebrated. I just love that the group from Baylor is here, and all the resources of people that come along to make today happen and be able to provide information to families about what’s in the community as well,” Kingston said. “It’s in the connection this provides — as well to the people who are new to Waco — that don’t know what’s around here.”

The event had many booths from multiple organizations providing help for families who may be new to town and looking for an outlet.

Kingston said each year, they have about 30 to 40 Baylor volunteers and local residents that help plan and run the event and provide support to the community.

Josh Gee, director of marketing for Bitty and Beau’s, worked the event Sunday. He said Bitty and Beau’s is a coffee shop run entirely by people with disabilities and created to help people with disabilities to become more valued, accepted and included in every community.

According to Bitty and Beau’s website, the original shop opened in January 2016 in Wilmington, N.C., and employed 19 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but has since expanded to 23 shops across 12 states with over 400 employees.

“It’s a human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop,” Gee said. “We are trying to change the way people view people, especially amazing folks with Down syndrome.”

When given an opportunity, Gee said the biggest thing is that people with disabilities are so successful at what they do, “they are remarkable people.”

“In the past, they haven’t been given a lot of opportunities to display their skills like making coffee, singing, entertaining people,” Gee said. “They’re able to run a successful business because they have been given the chance to do so. They blow us away every day.”

Gee said if other companies and businesses want to be successful, he highly recommends hiring people with disabilities.

“Our employees have shown up and are having a good time out here. It allows other people to get to interact with people who have down syndrome because they are the best people around because they are so kind and loving,” Gee said. “We are getting to celebrate people with Down syndrome today which is simply incredible.”