Throngs of people hit Forsyth Park on Saturday, beneath sweltering heat and humidity, for a cause they believed in. The annual Buddy Walk, which focuses on raising money for Down syndrome advocacy, was met with thousands of supporters, parents, and people with Down syndrome.

Hosted by Low Country Down Syndrome Society, the walk raised money to enable people with Down syndrome to find jobs they’re passionate about and provide support for them and their families. The main event was a walk around Forsyth, while contained inside the park were games and informational booths concerning disability and fitness. Several booths, like Low Country Down Syndrome Society and Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center, offered resources for both parents and onlookers wanting to know more about options and causes beyond the day’s walk.

“It was good,” said Broker Smith. The teenager with Down Syndrome walked with his father and friends and was especially excited to see many four legged pets joining the walk. Not just dogs, either — a camera-shy pony named Higbee brought by Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center was one of the more exotic variety out to show support.

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Many participants brought their pets to the 2017 Buddy Walk.

“We need to advocate for their humanity,” Broker’s father, Martin Smith, said. “I’m teaching Broker how to advocate for himself… I think we as advocates, our voices need to shift. Even though he [Broker] has Down’s he can contribute in his own way, however far his abilities take him.”

Bonnie Rachael, founder and CEO of Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center, agrees that the Buddy Walk, is about, “raising awareness for people to understand that everyone should be included. The horses are a way to show that people with Down syndrome,” she smiled, “can ride a horse.”

Riding horses may feel like an odd thing to prove, but in M. Smith’s words, “We often shortchange people.”

While this was Rachael’s first time at the walk, other Savannah residents have participated many years in a row.

“I first heard about the event nineteen years ago,” said Barry Henley, “probably on the tv. As soon as I heard, I rushed over.”

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This is Barry Hemley’s 19th Buddy Walk.

Hemley, who has cerebral palsy, has attended the event with his motorized scooter ever since. As a board member of the LIFE Incorporated, (Living Independently For Everyone) a group that aids disabled individuals, he understands the importance of coming out to show his support. “I’ve come with different organizations over the years, but this time I’m alone. The kids are very important to me.”

Though numbers are still being tallied now, last year the Buddy Walks nationally made $11.2 million to aid in research and career building opportunities. This year, Low Country Down Syndrome Society hopes to put their funds raised to even greater use. To find out more about LCDSS, visit their website at https://ldssga.org/.