For the Jones family, Saturday's Buddy Walk was a family reunion in more than one way.
“We come back every year. We've seen the same friends each year. We've seen the kids grow from young children into teenagers,” said Wallace Jones, of North Wales, Pa.
His has been meeting at the walk for the last 11 years, starting with the birth of his daughter, Hailey, who has Down syndrome.
On Saturday, Wallace gathered with his wife, Tina, all three of their children, his parents from New Castle, Del., and his sister Waynet Jones, who lives in Frederick.
“We all come together here,” said Waynet Jones, who is a board member of F.R.I.E.N.D.S., the locally based Down syndrome advocacy group that has organized the walk for the last 12 years.
Saturday's event was the biggest in the group's history and raised more than $50,000 to support F.R.I.E.N.D.S. programs, said event chairman Evan Routzahn. The funds will be used for a teacher training program and grants to support community members who have Down syndrome, he said.
The walk was one of more than 250 that will be held across the country this year, according to the National Down Syndrome Society, which developed the program.
About 400,000 people in the U.S. have Down syndrome, and 6,000 babies are born each year with the condition, making it the most common genetic condition, according to NDSS.
In Frederick, more than 600 people turned out to take part in Saturday's walk.
Josephine Cicolini, of Lake Linganore, was surrounded by at least 20 friends and family, as they walked with her 2-year-old daughter, Gaby.
“I really think Gaby and I have a bigger calling in life to raise awareness,” said Cicolini, who wears a feather clip in her hair each day. The feather opens the opportunity to speak about Down syndrome, she said.
“People will come up, especially young people, to ask about it, and I will use that to talk about Down syndrome,” she said.
Cicolini said she started using the clips because it was upsetting for her to hear someone say that “something was wrong with Gaby.”
Gaby is the hub of her family and exudes feelings of peace and love, Cicolini said.
“The extra chromosome is really the unconditional love chromosome,” she said.
Those with Down syndrome are born with 47 chromosomes, instead of 46, which leads to delays in mental and physical development, according to NDSS.
Jack Bacorn, of Myersville, remembers the doctors telling him all that when his daughter, Madeline, was born in 2006.
After some time, with his wife fearing the worst from the hospital bed, he cut the doctors off.
“My daughter managed to get one more chromosome than the rest of us. She's already an overachiever,” he said.
Madeline died in 2010, when she was 4 years old.
“She taught us so much about life during that time. She was so sweet, so loving — she saw only the good in the world,” Bacorn said. “I think it's the rest of us that have a handicap. We just haven't caught up yet.”
Volunteering at the Buddy Walk was hard for Bacorn, but he said he also felt a closeness with her on Saturday.
“It brings back a lot of memories. Sometimes they hurt, but they are good,” he said.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. President Denny Weikert took time from Saturday's event to read short stories about members of the group who have died, leading the crowd in a moment of silence after each name.
Ethan Saylor, who died while in the custody of off-duty sheriff's deputies at Frederick movie theater in January was among those remembered.
Weikert paused often during the memorial, choking back tears, in a sign of how close the families have become.
“Take their hugs and give them hugs,” Weikert told the parents in the crowd. “We truly have angels among us.”
Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines.