AUGUSTA — Luna Sorenson, who turns 2 later this month, held out her tiny hand to offer a high-five to Parker Dalton, who will soon turn 3, after Parker and his people were recognized for raising the most funds of any group walking in the Maine Down Syndrome Network’s Augusta Buddy Walk Sunday.

Parker, of Wiscasset, the inspiration for the Parker’s People team of walkers who together raised more than $2,600 for the network, didn’t hesitate, high-fiving her back then plopping down on the Capitol Park grass next to his newfound friend before the Buddy Walk started and the group trekked around the perimeter of the park, detouring to the steps of the nearby state Capitol building to pose for a photograph, then completing the walk to gather once more in the park.

It wasn’t, Abby Pearson, a member of the nonprofit network’s board of directors, really about walking.

“Yes, it’s a walk but it’s really a family event, with a little bit of walking,” said Pearson, while her 4-year-old son, Will, who has Down syndrome, tossed a football with his father William nearby.

The event raised more than $28,000 this year, more than any of the previous Buddy Walks in Maine, according to Jen Greslick, president of the Maine Down Syndrome Network. She said the Buddy Walk fundraiser pays for just about everything the organization does over a year, including programs to help parents, an annual conference, education and advocacy.

But the event, which drew about 150 participants to Augusta Sunday, is as much about people with Down syndrome and their families spending time together, playing games, and networking as it is about raising money.

Luna’s parents, Tom and Danielle Sorenson, of Rumford, came to the walk because they’d heard about it from friends of theirs, who are also parents of children with Down syndrome. They said Luna loves to run, loves other kids, and is very affectionate.

Tom Sorenson, who has “Luna” tattooed on his arm, recalled that when he was a kid, fellow students with Down syndrome weren’t really included in the same activities and circles of people as other students, and were in a different room than their classmates. He said there is no reason to exclude children with Down syndrome from activities with other children. They just want to be included, he said.

Pearson, of Richmond, urged people, when they meet someone with Down syndrome, to not assume that person needs special treatment or may not be able to understand.

“Assume competence, and that it might just take a little bit longer to do things,” she said.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Pearson said the network’s First Call program helped her, as a parent when she first got the diagnosis that Will had Down syndrome. In the First Call program, parents of children with Down syndrome are given tote bags full of information about the syndrome, and resources to turn to for help and networking.

Greslick said sometimes when parents of a newborn or who are expecting get a diagnosis their baby has Down syndrome, some friends and family who may not know what to say don’t say anything, and the celebration of the birth stops. She said the network helps parents understand a diagnosis of Down syndrome may mean the child’s life may be a bit different, but is still very much worth celebrating.

The Sorensons did some informal networking at Sunday’s event, chatting with Shawn and Bathilde Roberts, of Peru, about physical therapy while Luna and Payton Roberts, 3, who also has Down syndrome, played together with a soccer ball. Earlier Payton smiled broadly as she was surrounded by bubbles from a bubble machine at the event’s sensory tent.

Payton Roberts, 3, of Peru, runs Sunday through bubbles during the Augusta Buddy Walk, presented by the Maine Down Syndrome Network. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

“It’s good to talk with people going through the same thing,” Shawn Roberts said, noting the couple, who had Payton when he was just 21 and Bathilde was just 18, were surprised when they got the diagnosis their daughter has Down syndrome. He said Payton, who has a brother and sister, is “definitely the boss” of their household.

About a half-dozen Colby College students volunteered at the event, coming early to setup, helping people cross the street during the walk and serving lunch to the crowd afterwards.

Parker’s People lead the walk, with the redheaded Parker surrounded by a large contingent who walked to raise funds for the network.

“It’s mostly friends, family and co-workers, we’re lucky to have everybody back us up on our journey,” said Parker’s mom, Cynthia Dalton.

His dad, Nick Dalton, said Parker is a busy guy who loves socializing and being the center of attention. He starts pre-school next week.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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