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September 5, 2013

KEPPELER: It's time for family to take a walk

Tonawanda News — It’s time for me to get up on my soapbox again. It’s time to don those lime-green T-shirts. It’s time to haul the family out to Lewiston, wave to the crowd, throw candy and carry balloons.

It’s time to walk.

The Family & Friends Down Syndrome Association of Niagara will host its 17th Buddy Walk on Saturday as part of the Peach Festival parade, which starts at 11 a.m. in Lewiston. The Keppeler (and Morrison) families — with now-8-year-old Jim as our guest of honor — will, for the sixth time, participate in the walk.

Over the years, it’s become a family tradition and an anticipated fall event. That lime-green shirt that used to swim on Jim is now getting just a bit small. He’s looking forward to it, mostly because he remembers getting balloons, seeing the fire trucks in the parade or the promise of carnival rides at the festival or Hibbard’s Frozen Custard before we leave.

Me? I look forward to it for other reasons.

It’s a celebration, really. A way to tell the world this kid is great, even if he’s a little different. (Newsflash: We’re all a little different. Thank God.) And that our family is not alone. 

Christine Sirianni, founder, president and treasurer of the Family & Friends Down Syndrome Association of Niagara, said she expects this year’s walk to be one of the biggest yet, with one participating family bringing more than 30 members.

“We just need to continue that positive awareness,” Sirianni said. “There are are still the naysayers, still disbelievers. We still have to dispel the negative stereotype and opinions people have.”

Not only does the group want to bust those negative stereotypes, they want to highlight the positives — in the very person of people with Down Syndrome (like Jim) and the ranks of those who love them. 

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