We just celebrated my favorite time of the year at the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) – our annual Buddy Walk® on Washington! This year was extra special and unique for our organization. This was the first time in many, many years that we stormed Capitol Hill to declare a huge legislative victory – we #passEDtheABLEact! I was so excited to meet so many new advocates that came to Washington, DC for the first time ever to advocate for people with Down syndrome! We pushed specific requests in the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is currently being reauthorized, encouraged Members to support our Down syndrome research priorities and asked Members to join our Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus.
During our advocacy training session, we were joined by two very special guests – Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn – to celebrate the passage of the Virginia Stephen Beck Jr. ABLE Act and sign it into law!
That evening, we had a chance to honor several individuals and organizations that worked tirelessly to advocate for people with Down syndrome. I had a blast serving as the master of ceremonies with our NDSS Board Chairman, Rob Taishoff.
This year, NDSS recognized some amazing individuals and organizations:
NDSS DS-Ambassadors of the Year
Sherri Harnisch, Nebraska
Lynn Braker, Kentucky
Self-Advocates of the Year
Garrett Holeve, Florida
Ashley DeRamus, Alabama
Stephen Beck Jr. Advocate of the Year
Charles H. Gerhardt, III, Ohio
Buddy Walk® of the Year
Down Syndrome Association of South Texas (San Antonio, Texas)
Organization of the Year
Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA)
On Wednesday morning, we recognized several Members of Congress as our “Champions of Change” for their tireless work on behalf of all people with Down syndrome in the US Congress. Check out one of my favorite pictures with Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Jawanda Mast, Rachel Mast and me on the Capitol steps!
After several meetings on Capitol Hill, I met up with the other half of the Sara Duo – Sara Wolff – along with Senator Harry Reid and Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. for a “thank you” meeting in the Capitol. Both Senators thanked the National Down Syndrome Society for our tireless #ABLEact advocacy! Such a special meeting!
As we wrap up an incredible and memorable Buddy Walk® on Washington week, I want to thank our entire team at NDSS, our board members and all the advocates who took the time to join us in our nation’s capital to advance our important mission! I hope you consider joining us next year!
“It was a moment to celebrate a HUGE victory with some key champions who helped make it happen for NDSS, the Down syndrome community and ALL people with disabilities!”