Area Down Syndrome Walk Brings Advocates Together

Nick Shuler holds his son Oden at the Buddy Walk. Photo Courtesy of Rene Shuler

Nick Shuler holds his son Oden at the Buddy Walk. Photo Courtesy of Rene Shuler

Nick Shuler holds his son Oden at the Buddy Walk. Photo Courtesy of Rene Shuler
Nick Shuler holds his son Oden at the Buddy Walk. Photo Courtesy of Rene Shuler

Social studies resource teacher Rene Shuler knows a thing or two about the difficulty of raising a child with special needs. Her two-year-old son Oden has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects about 400,000 Americans, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.

Shuler’s experiences with her son inspired her to join the organizing committee of F.R.I.E.N.D.S., a Frederick-based Down syndrome support network that holds a yearly Buddy Walk to raise awareness and funds for advocacy activities. This year’s walk was held Sept. 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Shuler also created a Crowdrise page in order to raise money for Oden’s team. Those interested in donating could do so up until the day of the event.

Shuler became an active Down syndrome advocate after realizing how uninformed she and her husband were when Oden was born. “We had no support a�� we didn’t know what we were doing,” she said. Thankfully, she found what she was looking for in F.R.I.E.N.D.S., which sponsors teacher trainings, first responder education, hospital visits and camps for special needs children.

Shuler feels quite optimistic about the future for children with Down syndrome. “We have already seen improvement by Congress’ support of a Down syndrome bill to promote equality … I want my son to have an equal chance to try everything in life,” Shuler said.

Plenty of progress has indeed been made in the area of legislation to increase opportunities for those with Down syndrome, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees children with disabilities a free and minimally restrictive public education. Such progress is what people like Shuler hope to achieve in volunteering with Down syndrome organizations.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. president Denny Weikert says that volunteers like Shuler are crucial for making sure that the Buddy Walk and advocacy movement succeed.

“Without volunteers a�� we could not have seen the growth and the impact our organization has made within this four state area. Mrs. Shuler is a voice for the Down syndrome community and that is something every one of our families has become; we need even more and that has been happening with our volunteers as well,” Weikert said.

Shuler believes that it is important for the public to know about Down syndrome so that bullying in schools and mistreatment of affected individuals by police and paramedics can be minimized. As ableism towards people with Down syndrome is still present in society, she hopes to spread the idea that “they can do a lot of things; they just have an extra chromosome.”

Shuler’s Down syndrome activism has caught the attentiona��and praisea��of many students at RHS. ” … Throughout this process she has been strong shows support and love to her son and the cause,” junior Courtney Herzog said.