Attendance at DSAWM Step Up for Down Syndrome has grown over the past several years. In fact, after three consecutive years of record breaking fundraising and crowds well over 1,000 people, the event has become the largest Down syndrome awareness event in Michigan! This created some logistical problems – Step Up had grown too big for its previous location – Millennium Park. While DSAWM staff and Kent County Parks Department collaborated to address issues of gathering space, parking, electrical access, and environmental impact, the event had clearly reached capacity at the park. The Step Up for Down Syndrome Committee spent two years researching and planning to make big changes to Step Up that would allow it to continue to grow.
On Saturday, September 30th, all of that hard work paid off as 1,566 people came together for 2017 Step Up for Down Syndrome at John Ball Zoo. The largest crowd in DSAWM history enjoyed bounce houses, music, games, a puppet show, face painting, and refreshments before walking through the zoo. “It’s amazing to see West Michigan come together and show their support for friends and families with Down syndrome. I’m so excited to be a part of this community!” said Jennifer Richards DeVault, who joined DSAWM in July 2017 as Executive Director.
Step Up for Down Syndrome raised $141,340 for the programs and services provided by Michigan’s largest Down syndrome support organization – Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan. The organization is 32 years old, and this was its 21st walk. The growth in attendance and funds raised is due to community participation. Corporate sponsors donate to cover the expenses for the event, and the rest is raised through thousands of donations collected online and in the community. “Our families are the best ambassadors for Down syndrome. They show West Michigan what life with Down syndrome is like everyday and their friends, and neighbors witness the value of that. They donate because they believe in people with Down syndrome,” said Jennifer. 79 teams were created honoring individuals with Down syndrome. The three teams that raised the most money, Kru’s Crew, Kynsee’s Krew, and Jessica’s Crew won spots for Kru, Kynsee and Jessica on a Down Syndrome Awareness Month billboard. The largest team, Kynsee’s Crew, also won a private screening of The Nut Job 2 at Celebration Cinema for their entire team.
There were several reasons DSAWM chose the zoo. Besides additional space, the zoo has a central location that is accessible by mass transit, and allows out-of-towners to make a day of it by enjoying the zoo’s exhibits and activities, as well as enjoying downtown Grand Rapids celebrated restaurants, museums, and Art Prize venues. It also adds appeal to families who may not have a close connection to Down syndrome. “A major goal of Step Up for Down Syndrome is to draw in the community-at-large and introduce them to their neighbors with Down syndrome and share with them their potential and the contributions they are making in West Michigan,” said DSAWM member Meredith Lange.
Click here to view pictures of 2017 Step Up for Down Syndrome.
Building on the idea of creating a unique, entertaining event celebrating Down syndrome, this year’s DSAWM Step Up for Down Syndrome will be held at Fifth Third Ballpark on Saturday, September 22, 2018 and will have a sports theme.