Area teen's Eagle Scout project is organizing walk for Down syndrome

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When choosing a community service project to earn Eagle Scout rank with the Boy Scouts of America, many young men opt to make a park bench or tend a garden. Matt Jedlinski went a different route. He organized Saturday's Buddy Walk for Down syndrome awareness. This was the area's first Buddy Walk.

"My mom's best friend actually has a daughter with Down syndrome, so it really came to my attention." Jedlinski said. "A lot of people around this area build something, but I've always wanted to do something different for my project. I really wanted to reach out and help people in the community."

Jedlinski said he still needed one more merit badge before he could receive his Eagle Scout rank. He plans on receiving the rank at a ceremony this spring.

The 15-year-old sophomore at Notre Dame Regional High School said organizing the event was time-consuming but rewarding.

"I have been planning it since about July. I'm glad the day is finally here. It is a great feeling," he said.

More than 135 people participated in the walk. Jedlinski said he was pleased with the turnout.

"I am surprised at how many people are here. It exceeded my expectations. It is really good to see people helping other people," he said.

Many of the walkers had been affected by Down syndrome.

"My nephew, Sam Estes, is a 1-year-old with Down syndrome. My whole family is here to walk," said Jill Pinkston of Benton, Mo.

Heartland Down Syndrome Association president Claire Watson said she hoped the event would bring attention to the organization and the genetic disorder.

"Our walk is not a fundraiser. It is to promote awareness and respect," Watson said.

She said she plans to make the walk an annual event.

"Matt organized it for the first year. We will use his work as a guideline for next year's walk," Watson said.

In addition to the walk, there was face painting, games, music and an appearance by the St. Mary Cathedral School Blue Jay. Following the walk, participants were provided lunch.

According to the National Buddy Walk website, one in every 800 to 1,000 babies is born with Down syndrome. The disorder is caused when an individual has three copies of the 21st chromosome instead of two. Cognitive delays, low muscle tone and slow physical growth are common in people with Down syndrome. They are at increased risk for heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions.

Watson said despite the negative characteristics of the disorder, people with Down syndrome are loving and intuitive.

"They are sensitive and perceptive to other people's feelings. They are emotionally intelligent children and adults," Watson said.

More than 250,000 people across the country have participated in the Buddy Walk since 1995.

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