The Buddy Walk of the Berkshires heads out from Dalton's Craneville Elementary on Saturday.
DALTON, Mass. — Members of the Berkshire County Down Syndrome Family Group have supported one another for years, including right through the pandemic years.
But Saturday's 16th Buddy Walk of the Berkshires had the feel of a long overdue family reunion as the broader community had a chance to come together and celebrate those families and individuals who make up the support group.
"I've been coming for 12 years," George Wallace said. "It's amazing because everyone is so supportive."
Wallace, who attends Monument Mountain Regional High School, said he was happy to see some of his teachers and other friends at the annual event as he waited for the walk to take off from Craneville Elementary School.
Organizer Christine Ferrari, a family advocate at Berkshire County Arc, explained that while COVID-19 prevented the family group from having a full-scale event like Saturday's, it did not completely stop the event.
"The last few years, during COVID, we did the walk virtually, so wherever they wanted to walk, they walked," Ferrari said. "So we still did a great job of raising money. But they were so excited this year that we were going to be allowed to do this.
"There was a lot of momentum this year. We had over 700 people register. … There are still people who are a little leery, but it's outside."
Fund-raising is a big part of the event, which has the support of 20 sponsoring businesses and agencies. In addition to the donations received from registered walkers, the walk also raises money through a penny auction at the school on walk day.
"Over the years, this has really brought this community together," Berkshire County Arc President and CEO Ken Singer said. "The families are amazing. They use the money that we raise to do things for Down Syndrome families. All that money goes straight to them. They can do all kinds of projects and trainings and activities and picnics and fun excursions."
The walk itself has changed a little over the years. Participants used to march from the school to Main Street (Route 8) and go up and down the town's main drag, making a U-turn to return to Craneville. In recent years, organizers routed the walk with a left turn on Carson Avenue for a return to the school grounds.
Both before and after the main event, families congregate at the school, enjoy its playground, enjoy music and refreshments and hear brief remarks from the organizers and officials like Rep. Paul Mark, who has served Dalton on Beacon Hill for years and who hopes to represent all of Berkshire County in the State Senate after November's election.
"It's great to be back in person after a two-year hiatus," Mark said. "This is my 13th Buddy Walk in a row and my 12th as a sponsor, and, somehow, every year we have a different colored shirt. This is great.
"It's great to see everyone. This is such an important cause, such important work. And it's great to see the community come together."
iBerkshires.com reporters Brittany Polito and Stephen Dravis contributed to this report.
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