ANAHEIM – More than 3,000 people rushed the field of Angel Stadium on Sunday, but it wasn’t over a game. The Down Syndrome Association of Orange County held its annual Buddy Walk fundraiser there. People of all ages with Down syndrome, their families and friends gathered to spend a day doing fun activities and a half-mile walk around the stadium to raise money for the association.
The Down Syndrome Association of Orange County is a nonprofit group based in Costa Mesa that provides resources and support for people with Down syndrome and their loved ones.
The field was covered in canopies of different colors and bright signs for teams representing relatives with Down syndrome. For the Buddy Walk, families and friends created teams and recruited others to attend the event.
All 55 members of Mariah Garcia’s team, Mariah’s Kingdom, wore purple shirts, one of Mariah’s favorite colors. The 2-year-old with Down syndrome ran about in a puffy dress matching her entourage.
BY ALMA FAUSTO / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Mariah’s mother, Alina Garcia, 29, said her daughter was enjoying the day.
“She knows she’s the center of attention, and she loves attention,” Garcia said.
Garcia followed close behind as Mariah ran off to a nearby bounce house. The family is from Orange, but Mariah’s father, Jaime, said many of their team members traveled from Los Angeles for the event.
Jaime, 29, said that often when he mentions his daughter’s Down syndrome people feel bad for him and his wife.
“They say ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that’ but it’s not like that,” he said. “We’re trying to get people to think differently.”
According to Eric Doran, manager of the Down Syndrome Program at UCI Medical Center, there are about 3,000 people in Orange County with Down syndrome. He was at the walk’s many resource booths. Throughout the field were booths for various vendors and sponsors.
Guests roamed the field playing games, exploring the stadium and interacting with each other.
Kellie Perez, senior director for the Down Syndrome Association of Orange County, said the Buddy Walk is more than just a way to raise money. Perez has a 21-year-old daughter with Down syndrome.
“This is a great way to unify families, supporters and other members of the community to show them that our kids with Down syndrome are very much part of our families and are just like typical kids their age,” Perez said.
Perez said the average proceeds raised from registration fees and donations at the Buddy Walk are about $180,000 before expenses.
Alina Garcia said Mariah’s purple support group is going to grow every year. It was their third year at the Buddy Walk on Sunday, and Alina said she likes meeting people in her same situation.
“We just want for other people to see that our kids can be included in things and are capable of doing even more things.”