The 21 United of Mississippi hosted their 7th annual Buddy Walk at the Old Armory Pavilion on Sunday, Oct. 17. People of all ages gathered to raise awareness for Down syndrome and support their friends and family members who have been affected by it. Many others came to volunteer and give their time to the Oxford community.
Bradley and Jenny Rayner, the founders of 21 United Way, said their goal is to spread awareness and provide services for those affected by Down syndrome.
Jenny Rayner said, “Planning for the Buddy Walk starts mid-summer so they can have everything ready by October, which is Down syndrome Awareness Month.”
Jenny Rayner said this was the seventh year to have the Buddy Walk. They started in 2014 but didn’t have it last year due to COVID-19.
“I’m really glad that we were able to have it back in person this year,” Jenny Rayner said. “I’ve got a great planning committee to help.”
Many college students came to show their support and participate in the Buddy Walk. Students Jen Vinluan and Nya Thompson both shared their experiences as volunteers.
Vinluan is an allied health studies major from Gulfport, Mississippi. Before coming to the university, she volunteered with her local Buddy Walk for four years. Vinluan said that the walk allows better representation for people with Down syndrome.
“I think anything just bringing light to it is nice. People go through University Avenue all day long. I mean, they obviously see it,” Vinluan said.
Thompson is a secondary English education major from Ridgeland, Mississippi. This was her first year participating in the Buddy Walk. Thompson said the impact of 21 United of Mississippi goes beyond the Oxford community.
“The stigma around special needs, especially special needs children in general, needs to have more awareness. So I think this will just bring us more together,” Thompson said.
The Buddy Walk raised over $16,000 this year and was attended by people from all over. Many of the volunteers attending believed that this event would spread awareness and give a day to people affected by Down syndrome.