By Peter Zuniga, Managing Editor
Despite the sudden burst of rain, the Down But Not Out walk went on as scheduled on Sunday, in the middle of Heritage Park. More than 600 people attended the event. Written on the event’s yellow t-shirt were the words “Advocacy. Awareness. Acceptance,” as the annual walk seeks to provide those three elements in regards to Down syndrome and other special needs.
It began with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, and then the walk started around the park. A part of UMHB’s drumline led the stream of yellow, filled with families, students, and all sorts of residents from the local area and beyond.
After the walk, Post 4008 of the VFW provided a free barbecue meal, and soon after, a raffle for donated prizes began. All the while, games, music, and the playground provided entertainment for the families.
Gary Knight, a financial advisor for Edward Jones and director of the event, said, “It’s [the walk] for education, to help people understand that these are very special people, and God has blessed us with these folks…Our mission, more than anything else, is to make sure that people see people as they are, not see people with what they have.”
Before directing, Knight was a volunteer at the event. He spoke of his older brother who had Down syndrome. “He passed away a year ago, last March, age 62, and so he’s a big part of why we do this…He’s always been a special part of our life, and this [the walk] has been a special part of our life…This is one of the events he loved more than anything else.”
A great number of people with Down syndrome and special needs were present. For Virginia Wallace, a resident of Temple, her grandson was the reason for coming.
“He’s my daughter’s son, and he has an older sister,” Wallace said. When asked about her thoughts on the walk, she said, “Oh, it’s amazing, because these parents are truly blessed when they have a Down Syndrome child. It just means so much to them to know that they do have some support, and other people that are in the same situation with children of special needs.”
All raffle prizes were donations, and the meal and event t-shirts were free to the public. All money that went toward the purchasing of raffle tickets simply went back into the basic costs for the event.
Knight stated how easy it was to find volunteers due to UMHB’s involvement. Knight first sought out help from Randy Mann, Vice President for Athletics at UMHB, and said, “All I did was ask and he responded immediately.”
Student athletes and a part of the drumline from UMHB were glad to volunteer at the walk. “Our Student Athlete Advisory Committee is made up of a representative from each sport,” Mann said, “and we meet monthly…we are always looking for community service projects to get involved in.”
Knight appreciated the response of the school. Both Knight and UMHB plan to partner again in the future.
For those interested, the walk will happen next year on the first Sunday of October at Heritage Park. It has become an essential moment out of the year, and one that Knight plans on continuing with resolved passion.
In regard to those with special needs, Knight said, “They deserve love and attention because they give out wholeheartedly, and without any reservation at all.”