By Caitlin Masessa

Since being established in 2006, the non-profit organization F.R.I.E.N.D.S Down Syndrome West Florida has worked to provide educational and support services to families who have been impacted by the condition as well as encouraging community involvement through events. One of these events, the Second Annual FDSWF Buddy Walk, is slated to occur on October 7 at Raymond James Stadium. The idea for the Walk came to Ann Foyt, the President of FDSWF, after welcoming an enthusiastic Craig Woodard Sr. “He had organized a fundraiser through his employer [Springleaf Financial] and raised over $1200 for FRIENDS,” Ann Foyt said of the addition, “He came to me in 2016 with the idea of hosting a Buddy Walk.”

With four people doing the work of 18, it took the team a mere four months to secure a location and sponsors for the event as well as more than 50 volunteers from the University of South Florida. “I thought we would have a couple of hundred people to show up and maybe raise a few thousand dollars,” Foyt spoke of her expectations, “In the end, we had over 860 registered families and over 2,000 people showed up the day of the walk. It was phenomenal.” The supportive families raised over $30,000 for the organization, but the good will didn’t stop there. After running an article on the Buddy Walk, the St. Pete Times donated over $4,000 worth of advertising while the Winthrop Group donated office space to FDSWF, giving them a place to host workshops and meetings. With the donations raised, the organization could begin their Sponsorship Program as well as continue to sustain their current programs.

As this year’s Buddy Walk quickly approaches, Foyt is prepared to deliver a day that is “bigger and better” than the successful year before. The day will start with a “child friendly” Tailgate Party hosted by DJ Chuck Eckhart. After getting their faces painted by Lola The Party Girl, the children are welcome to participate in inflatable slides and obstacle courses. The MUCH Foundation plan to delight the crowd with superheroes and princesses as the participants make their way down to the Buccaneers field.

Tampa Food Trucks and YoYo Juice will provide food while FDSWF’s own Robert Taylor grills ribs and pulled pork. The event is expected to have a few local celebrities in attendance. With his Super Bowl ring, former Bucs DE Chuck Darby will be signing autographs and taking pictures. The raffles will also offer autographed footballs by QB Jameis Winston, WR Mike Evans, and DE Gerald McCoy.

The registration fee for the event is $15 and includes a free t-shirt as well as admission into the event. Down Syndrome individuals and children 12 years old and under is free. For the Buddy Walk and beyond, President Ann Foyt is thrilled to continue serving the community. “I have such a passion for our DS community and I will not stop until we have grown into the organization that our families can be proud of,” Ann Foyt spoke with confidence, “We aren’t going anywhere.” The Second Annual Buddy Walk will be on Saturday, October 7 at Raymond James Stadium.

To sign up for the Buddy Walk, or if you have any interest in becoming a volunteer, visit www.ds-stride.org/fdswfbuddywalk or www.friendssupport.org.