SOUTH PLAINFIELD – NJ – The rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the shine was shining as hundreds gathered in Putnam Park on Oct. 10 for the 12th Annual Buddy Walk of South Plainfield. The goal of the family-friendly event, organized annually by Michele and Keith Both of South Plainfield, is to promote awareness and inclusion for people with Down syndrome as well as to raise money for research and education programs.

The 12th Annual Buddy Walk of South Plainfield – originally planned for Oct. 3 and rescheduled because of the threat of a nor’easter – was open to individual walkers and teams. This year, over 500 people, including some 40 teams, took part, raising over $40,000. As in previous years, monies raised will be donated to the National Down's Syndrome Society, Central NJ Down Syndrome Parent Advocacy Group, Network 21 and the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation (DSRTF). Additionally, funds will go to creating packets/gift baskets for new parents of children with Down's syndrome.

The Buddy Walk was established in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October and, over the past 20 years, more than $11.75 million has been raised for local programs and services as well as the national advocacy initiatives that benefit all individuals with Down syndrome.

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In 2003, Michele and Keith Both’s second son, Kyle, was born with Down's Syndrome. That October, the South Plainfield family attended their first Buddy Walk and, a year later, the Both’s decided to bring the walk to their own community. According to Michele, events like the Buddy Walk help move past the stigmas that often comes when one thinks of someone with Down syndrome.

“To often, someone with Down syndrome is prejudged because they look a little different and we don't want people to judge any of them by their outer appearances or because they act a little different,” she said. “The Buddy Walk gives people the opportunity to see them for who they really are and to see that these kids are just that – kids.”

Michele, whose team ‘Kyle’s Krew’ raised over $3,600 at this year’s Buddy Walk, added, “We are thankful to our family and friends who came out and helped us as well as all those who participated.”

The 13th Annual Buddy Walk of South Plainfield is planned for Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. For more information, contact Michele Both at 908-531-5100 or visit BuddyWalkofSouthPlainfield.com.