Each year, 1,600 babies are born with Down Syndrome. Children born with this chromosomal disorder usually have physical symptoms, like a small skull or flattened nose bridge and often have mild to severe learning disabilities.
Parenting a child can be tough enough, but it takes a lot of extra effort and support to care for a child with special needs. That's why South Mississippians team up each year for the Coast's Buddy Walk.
Eric Clark marched down the streets of Biloxi during this year's Buddy Walk. This Saturday Mississippi's Secretary of State wasn't politicking...but he was touting a cause close to his heart.
"I wish that the message would get out to everybody that citizens with Down Syndrome have a great deal to offer, but they need help, and their families might need help," Clark said.
Clark's 10-year-old daughter has Down Syndrome. Events like this Buddy Walk give caretakers, like Clark, a chance to network and lend support to each other. It also provides an opportunity for those with Down Syndrome to meet new friends and to just have fun.
"This is my first year to be in the Buddy Walk. I was with Down Syndrome. I will have it all the time. I just turned thirty already this year. And I am so happy to be here," Tabitha Turnage said.
This is the fourth annual buddy walk here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It's one of 175 walks being held across the country.
"The point of the walk, of course is to make people more aware of Down Syndrome and the challenges families with Down Syndrome face," Clark said.
Kim Duffy knows these challenges all too well. She has three children. Her youngest, 3-year-old Noah, has Down Syndrome, but he's taught her a lot about life and how to live it.
"My two older children were in the gifted program, and I didn't realize how much emphasis our family placed on intelligence, but in reality, you know, how, what your I.Q. is, it doesn't really matter. He has so many gifts to offer us. Number one is just to enjoy the moment," Duffy said.