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Give, Care, Share: Down Syndrome of South Central KY




By Emily Robertson

“We are all more alike than we are different” is a big idea that Down Syndrome of South Central Kentucky (DSSKY) works to spread throughout the 10 counties of the Barren River Area Development District that it serves. You may have heard about the Buddy House or possibly the organization’s fundraiser, The Buddy Walk, but the work that DSSCK does is varied, targeted and unique, helping to serve 140 that participate in its programs.

Started in 1995 by a group of parents who would meet as a support group, the group began hosting The Buddy Walk and concert fundraisers in 1999 in order that they could purchase a building to support the programming they wanted to provide for individuals with Down Syndrome. The doors officially opened 14 years later at The Buddy House in March of 2013. The Buddy House is one of only two facilities in the state of Kentucky, and one of only 10 in the entire country, that provides a physical location for membership families to utilize in their Down Syndrome organization.

“The mission of DSSKY is to enhance the quality of life for individuals with Down Syndrome and their families by providing support, information, education, resources, networking and activities,” says DSSKY Director Stephanie Morton. “We believe inclusion and community support are essential in helping enable persons with Down Syndrome to achieve their maximum potential and lead fulfilling lives.”

DSSKY provides a large variety of programs that are split into four groups by age. Each age group offers a social group that meets each month. Other programs offered to various age groups include Moverz & Shakerz, provided by the Tippi Toes dance program, physical therapy play groups, sign language classes, tutoring, speech classes, adult skills, yoga, Crossfit and the Rockerz Dance Team, that advocates in our community through their dance programs.

“These are just the beginning of the programs,” Morton says. “As we are growing, we offer more and more opportunities for families to take advantage of ways to supplement their child’s learning and growing.”

One large adult program that DSSKY provides is the ambassador program. Adults work with the Bowling Green Hot Rods organization during day games in greeting guests, helping in the retail store and helping to clean up around the stadium. The ambassador program also works with SkyPac during select performances to provide assistance with ushering.

“The biggest misconception about individuals with Down Syndrome is that they have a ‘disability’ and are not able to be independent or active in society,” Morton says. “DSSKY is working within the community to raise awareness to the fact that individuals with Down Syndrome are more like us than different.”

In order to accomplish the work the organization does, they raise funds through private donations and fundraisers. Nearly all the programming that takes place through The Buddy House is at no cost to the families, so the fundraisers they do during the year make a huge impact. In April, DSSKY hosted their inaugural Pre-Derby Gala at La Gala, which featured a cocktail hour, dinner and both a live and silent auction, as well as a race for the bourbon. The group’s largest fundraiser each year is the Buddy Walk. The 21st annual walk will take place this year on September 21, 2019.

“The exciting news about this year’s walk is that we have decided to individualize the walk and have changed the name to The Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk,” Morton says. “This fundraiser typically brings in approximately 70% of our annual budget.”

Morton, who first began as a volunteer with the organization six years ago, became DSSKY’s first Executive Director in May of 2018. Morton grew up with an uncle who had Down Syndrome, but credits her own daughter for getting her involved in the organization.

“Because of my daughter’s interest and passion about working with individuals with Down Syndrome, I became a volunteer as well,” Morton says. “I have a passion for families and a drive to provide them with the tools necessary to grow, learn and become as independent as possible.”

Along with Morton, there are three other employees with the organization and a team of approximately 75 to 100 volunteers at one or more of the events and programs, but they are always looking for more people who want to make a difference in the lives of individuals with Down Syndrome.

“A great volunteer for our organization is someone who can just in uninhibited,” Morton says. “Volunteers need to be able to relate with our members as if there were no differences. We look for volunteers that can help with our activities, but also blend with the members as if they were just hanging out with their friends.”

Morton says Bowling Green is a fantastic community that supports its non-profits, welcomes diversity and fosters partnership. “We love working with our friends at other non-profits, especially those for individuals with special needs,” Morton says. “The special needs community in Bowling Green is focused on what our population needs the most and supports each other in their efforts to improve the lives of those it serves.”

If you are interested in learning more about DSSKY or the work the organization does, go to dssky.org, or find “Down Syndrome of South Central Kentucky on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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