“There are no limits on these kids, or individuals — they can probably love more than any of us can ever in our lifetime,” Christina Hunter said as she thanked the more than 250 guests who turned out for the first-ever Down Syndrome Joy Walk Saturday.
The event was to celebrate families of those with Down Syndrome. Christina said she was overwhelmed by the response.
“It’s been an amazing experience and an emotional day,” Christina said.
Christina’s 2-year-old daughter Hannah, who has Down Syndrome, was the inspiration behind the walk. She said after Hannah was born, her family began to attend similar events in surrounding counties but there was no such event in Portage County. So she set out to start a walk for the area, so that parents and families of individuals with Down Syndrome could meet community members and lean on each other when needed.
“It is amazing to have support from doctors, but it is almost essential to have support with other families because there are a lot of questions, especially for new mothers who have never had children,” Christina said.
Approximately 18 individuals with Down Syndrome attended the walk at Sunny Lake Park in Aurora. Some were even vendors at the event. Lauren and Derek Hunter, a married couple who both have Down Syndrome, sold their baskets from their own business, Baskets with Love. The Aurora-based couple partners with 20 businesses from all over, including The Upside of Downs, a Cleveland-based organization that employs individuals with Down Syndrome.
Many were from the same Streetsboro-based church the Hunters belong to, The North Gate. Christy Duckworth, a friend of Christina’s from church, said she loves the community involvement of the event.
Parent Council was also present with a table so families could learn about their services. A portion of the proceeds from the event will help the organization fund employment for an individual with a developmental disability.
Lifelong friends of the Hunters were also in attendance. Ashley McCune, who grew up with Chad Hunter, Christina’s husband, said she wanted to show support for the Hunters and those with Down Syndrome.
“People don’t realize how much love kids with Down Syndrome have,” she said. “Anyone who can should go to an event for Down Syndrome, because they are such a joy.”
Fellow church member Jim Kuchta said they came to support the Hunters, as they feel like family. He said “Hannah brings so much joy to everyone. If you are having a bad day, just look at Hannah, she is so filled with joy.”
Brad Kuster and his wife, Sarah Beth, traveled from Kentucky for the event, as their 9-year-old daughter Josie was born with disabilities. The Kusters belong to a sister church of the Hunters, and were also scheduled to speak at Sunday’s services. Brad Kuster told their story at the rally.
Initially, doctors told the Kusters the baby Sarah Beth was carrying would not survive, and recommended they elminate the pregnancy. Josie, as they named the baby, was born in December 2008, and while she underwent surgeries, she survived and thrived. For eight years Josie couldn’t walk. Brad said while he is grateful for all doctors have done, he believes in a higher power and won’t let lables dictate what his daughter can and cannot do.
“Labels can be limiters and what we have learned with Josie is, wherever we are, we will celebrate, whatever is going on, we will just believe with all of our hope that nothing tells us what she can’t do or what she can’t be,” Brad said.
In April, the family left Subway after lunch, and Josie started walking. She walked in the Joy Walk Saturday with her family.
The inspiring story was met with applause and tears as Hunter said the message of hope is important to families of individuals with Down Syndrome or any developmental disability.
Reporter Briana Barker can be reached at 330-541-9432, email@example.com or @brianabarker1.