By Patrick Lacombe
The Belton Journal
Approximately 1,500 people, most of them wearing identical pink T-shirts, gathered together last Sunday at Heritage Park in Belton to take a walk, eat barbecue and sausage with all the fixin’s, and visit with each other.
No, it wasn’t a fundraiser or a for-profit event. Organizer and creator of Downs But Not Out Gwen Tanner referred to it as a “family reunion and get together of good friends that have one thing in common, a child born with Down syndrome, or supporter of families with a Special Needs Child.”
Tanner began the Downs But Not Out Walk 19 years ago to raise awareness during Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
“We are just trying to raise awareness about Down syndrome,” Tanner said. “Everything out here is free; we just want people to come out and interact with our kids. We’re not going to change their diagnosis, but if we can get the community involved, they interact with our children and see they’re not so different, they just want to be treated the same as others. If you can touch a child in elementary or junior high, and Belton ISD does a wonderful job of that with the ‘Partners’ program, they will see that they are just like me and there’s nothing to be scared of.”
The event featured an “Awareness Walk,” and everyone was given a pink T-shirt to wear free of charge. The line of pink stretched halfway around the park, looking like a long pink ribbon with legs once all the participants started walking the mile long track.
When they made it back to the start, the barbecue was served, and participants sat around eating and visiting with one another and having a good time.
Kids were treated to hot dogs, cotton candy and sno-cones to go along with the bounce castles and free motorcycle rides around the park courtesy of several MC Clubs from the Central Texas area.
The Belton Police Department was represented by “Badge,” the Belton PD mascot, who was escorted by members of the Belton PD and CHIPS volunteers. The Belton Fire Department had their Ladder Truck on display for kids to explore, and Belton Fire Fighters and EMS personnel were also on hand to talk to the kids about the fire truck and paramedic unit.
The Henry Waskow VFW Post 4008 in Belton provided all the meat for the BBQ and spent all day and into Friday night cooking it. The VFW Ladies Auxillary prepared the fixings, consisting of potato salad, beans and bread.
“We bought 26 briskets and 70 pounds of sausage,” Commander of VFW Post 4008 John Pratt said. “The sausage is all gone and there just a little brisket left over.”
Gary and Misty Leofsky along with daughter Destiny were helping in the cooking area.
“We’re members of Post 4008, and we enjoy helping people out,” said Gary.
Gwen and Eddy Tanner, of Tanner Roofing Company in Belton, are the proud parents of five children. Their daughter Aubriellen was born with Down syndrome 22 years ago. Aubriellen, also know as “Breezy” to her friends and family, even goes to work with her mom in Belton and has her own office.
“It’s painted in pink, and she even has a pink chandelier in her office,” Tanner said. “We call her Breezy because she kind of breezes through life.”
Chip and Laura Franks of Salado were there with their 3-year-old son Alec, who has Down syndrome. Alec was admiring the motorcycles and just having a good time. The Franks have 2 other children, Mandy, 14, and Allie, 10.
“They (Mandy and Allie) are very good with him (Alec) and love him and support him completely,” Chip said. “All he’s ever known is people adoring him and loving him.”
For more information on the Downs But Not Out Walk, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dbnowalk.