‘I never expected so much support’

Plans for Down syndrome fundraiser coming together

Joy Edyvean (17), Hunter Betuleit (11), Kara Sullivan (9), Molly Sullivan (11) and Braylee Ness (6) were presented with flowers before the North Branch girls basketball game against St. Michael-Albertville on Feb. 7. Photo by Brad O’Neil
Joy Edyvean (17), Hunter Betuleit (11), Kara Sullivan (9), Molly Sullivan (11) and Braylee Ness (6) were presented with flowers before the North Branch girls basketball game against St. Michael-Albertville on Feb. 7.
Photo by Brad O’Neil

Ahead of the North Branch girls basketball game on Feb. 7, North Branch students Leah Weber, Rachel Dworshak, Isabella Torres and Tatiana Kaslow gave a presentation about Down syndrome while also promoting a fundraising sock-hop scheduled for World Down Syndrome Awareness Day, March 21. At the end, they presented bouquets of flowers to five students with Down syndrome. Tickets to the dance were sold throughout the game, as were promotional T-shirts.

This was just the latest effort by the North Branch community to promote and support Down syndrome awareness and fundraising efforts in the area.

“The community is just grasping on to this,” lead organizer Tina Ness said. “Community Ed has grasped it and ran. I get random emails from people and businesses saying, ‘We’d like to get involved; we’d like to help in any way we can.’”

Ness is closely involved with the Down syndrome community in North Branch. She and other parents have been promoting awareness of the condition through their efforts to “color the town blue and yellow” for Down Syndrome Awareness Day, as described in these pages back in December. People in the community are encouraged to dress in blue and yellow to show support for the movement. Mismatched socks in those colors are especially associated with the day.

Since then, plans for the fundraising sock hop, to be held at Sunrise Elementary at 4:30 p.m. March 21, having been coming together.

“We’ve got the T-shirts designed, we’ve got the fliers made up. Business are involved, the mayor is involved. We’ve got all kinds of things going. It’s going bananas – I never expected so much support,” Ness said.

Local businesses have donated food and other items for the dance, as well as monetary contributions to Fiona’s Hope Totes, the nonprofit which will receive all proceeds raised by the sock-hop.

North Branch Mayor Kirsten Hagen-Kennedy will make a proclamation about Down Syndrome Awareness at a city meeting on March 14. After being introduced to the community, North Branch residents with Down syndrome will lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

Ness’ daughter Braylee, 6, will be one of those leading the pledge, along with Paige Lutz (3), Kasen Smiglis (10), Hunter Bertuleit (11), Molly Sullivan (11), Ashley Novak (21) and Walter Dietermann (32).

North Branch residents with Down syndrome cover a wide age spectrum, and each age group faces it own challenges. Among other goals, Ness hopes the community will become aware of the challenges that people with Down syndrome face as they move on from their schooling years.

“One of the main messages we’re trying to get out is that some of these kids are getting to the age where they need jobs, and they face difficulties. There’s a stigma that they can’t do everything that other people can.”

Asked if she had any other statement for the community, Ness said: “Just a big thank you. Thank you to everyone who has been jumping on board with us.”

More information on the upcoming dance can be found at a Facebook page called “We Are All The Same, Sock Hop.”

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