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A gathering of smiles

Up With Downs Tots brings parents and Down's syndrome kids together monthly.

By RITA FARLOW, Times Staff Writer
Published October 7, 2007



Nathan Wincek, 4, giggled as he pulled back a blue curtain adorned with colorful images of the universe and hid behind it.

Hot on his heels was 3-year-old Kayli Forrester. Giggling too, she peeled the curtain back and ran after him.

The two preschoolers joined about 15 other children at the Dunedin Fine Arts Center recently for a playdate for younger children with Down's syndrome.

The monthly activities allow the kids to play together while their parents share experiences and information about the latest therapies or educational programs. The visits are therapeutic for the children who work on their motor and language skills through their play.

It's also important, parents said, that their children gain exposure to others with Down's syndrome.

"While they are little now, one day they will start to question their diagnosis and as parents we feel that they should understand what makes them unique and to not be afraid or embarrassed by who they are," said Cara Callahan, whose 4-year-old son, Jake, has Down's syndrome.

The Up With Downs Tots group was organized earlier this year by Callahan and Vonda Forrester and their husbands, after their families met in the aisles of a local Target. The group functions under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization Up With Downs of Pinellas.

The time was right for a playgroup because the kids involved in the original Up With Downs of Pinellas group, formed in 1989, are now teenagers.

"What our kids need at (this) age is totally different than what teenagers need," said Callahan, of Largo.

On Saturday, the tots and their families will join others trying to raise awareness about the condition at the fourth annual Tampa Bay Area Buddy Walk, sponsored by Up With Downs of Pinellas and the city of Largo. The nationwide annual event was started in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society and now includes more than 275 walks across the country.

Down's syndrome, a genetic condition affecting about one out of every 800 to 1,000 live births, causes physical and developmental delays at varying levels. Many babies born with Down's syndrome have heart defects or gastrointestinal abnormalities.

But in so many ways, kids with Down's syndrome are just like other children who like to swim and dance and watch their favorite television shows, Callahan and Forrester said.

Like many parents of children with Down's syndrome, both the Callahans and the Forresters said they were given poor prognoses for their children within days of their births. No one can predict with certainty what any child will grow into, Callahan said.

"You can't tell anyone what their child will, or will not, do at 7 days old," Callahan said, "doctors or not."


A walk to help out

The fourth annual Tampa Bay Area Buddy Walk will be held Saturday at Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive. Registration begins at 10 a.m. and the walk begins at 11 a.m., followed by a post-walk party that will include food, music, games, a raffle and giveaways, kids' activities and a silent auction. A small portion of proceeds will benefit the National Down Syndrome Society; the rest will remain in the community to be used to assist parents of children with Down's syndrome and support educational outreach efforts. The event is sponsored by Up With Downs of Pinellas and the city of Largo. For information or to register, call 462-2274 or visit

[Last modified October 6, 2007, 20:02:45]

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