A group of Birmingham parents and students are stepping up this weekend and making a statement about Down syndrome.
Twelve families from the Birmingham Public School district will be participating in the 8th annual Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk, held this Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The team is walking to support the Down Syndrome Guild (DSG) of Southeast Michigan.
"We all want for our kids what everyone else wants for theirs — love and acceptance," said Kimberly Harper, organizer of Birmingham's DSG team for the Step Up walk.
"Our group was brought together by the common thread of a child with Down syndrome," she added. "We want our community to see that our kids are healthy and happy, and they live pretty normal lives."
According to Jocelyn Cook, a parent with the group walking on Saturday, the number of children with Down syndrome in the Birmingham area has grown from less than 10 to more than 18.
In total, there are more than 40,000 people living with Down syndrome in the U.S. One out of every 691 babies are born with Down syndrome.
The group has the support of several local businesses and school administrators. All September long, the Great Harvest Bread Company, Mills Pharmacy and the Italian Dish have been collecting donations for the team. ZMC Pharmacy in Royal Oak — owned by Jalal and Meghan Zawaidah — has also been collecting donations. The Zawaidahs will be walking with the group as well, Cook said, for their son, Haven.
In addition, Birmingham's newly-hired superintendent Daniel Nerad will also be walking with the Birmingham team.
"We appreciate the support of Dr. Nerad and these local businesses," said Laura Lilley, another organizer with the Birmingham DSG team. "Our children are at the parks, in the schools and we frequent the local businesses. We are active members of this community and value the support we have received."
In total, more than 2,000 families gathered at the Palace of Auburn Hills to participate in the 2011 Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk, an event that promotes acceptance and inclusion for all people with Down syndrome.
All funds raised at the walk go toward the DSG, which supports local families through outreach activities and scholarships, provides medical professionals and expectant parents with Down syndrome kits and hosts social events and educational workshops for children and adults with Down syndrome.
To make a donation to the Birmingham Step Walk team, visit http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/BirminghamDSG/step-up.