Rachael Stanford knows how to pose for the camera. Kristen McLawhon definitely has rhythm, and they're just like any other child; when they see candy, they can't resist.
But Rachael and Kristen face more challenges than most other kids their age, challenges that at times can be overwhelming to not only them, but also their families.
"When we first found out Kristen had Down Syndrome, it was right after she was born, it was a surprise. We didn't have the prenatal testing, so it was a surprise and it was a little confusing at the beginning.”
The McLawhons moved to Panama City when Kristen was two years old. They admit to sometimes feeling alone in their walk until they joined a couple of other families and formed a group called Acton Up With Downs.
"And we found that talking to others, the nurses who had experience dealing with this and having books to read that helped."
Today the organization has grown to 53 local families and helps embrace new parents who suddenly find themselves with a special needs child.
“We have new parent packs and we have a lot of resources and information about where to go, what doctor's and different information that other parents need to know."
To help keep these informational packs up to date and to raise awareness about Down Syndrome, this parent group is holding its Fourth Annual Buddy Walk.
“That is the main theme awareness, acceptance. It's the time for us to be together as families and be able to enjoy our company together and let the kids play together.”
They are also encouraging you to come out and be a buddy to these special children by walking alongside them.
“What do you do at the Buddy Walk?”
“Have so much fun."
If you don't want to walk, you can always be a sponsor. The Buddy Walk is set for this Saturday at Aaron Bessant Park at Pier Park. Registration begins at 8:30. The walk itself is at 10:30.