By Keysha Drexel
More than 400 people kicked up their heels for a good cause at an April 4 event aimed at raising money for older teens and adults with developmental delays.
A crowd of dance-goers from the Exceptional Foundation in Homewood, the United Cerebral Palsy Center and the Horizon Center in Birmingham and members of Parents Advocate for Down Syndrome gathered at Samford University earlier this month for the third annual Dance for Downs.
The dance was started in 2012 by Vestavia Hills native and Samford University student Lindy Williamson.
Williamson said she started the fundraiser because she wanted to expand opportunities for older teens and adults with developmental delays, like her brother Jordan Williamson, 27.
“My brother has Down syndrome and there were tons of opportunities for him while he was in school, but when he turned 21, there just weren’t a lot of options for him,” Williamson said. “I knew other families must be dealing with the same thing.”
The first Dance for Downs was held May 8, 2012 after Williamson found out about the need to raise money for the programs at the UAB Adult Down Syndrome Clinic, one of the few clinics of its kind in the nation that serves those with Down syndrome starting at the age of 16.
When it came to thinking of a creative way to raise money for the clinic, the former Vestavia Hills High School Rebelette dancer said she didn’t have to look far for an idea.
“I’ve been dancing my whole life, and being around my brother and his friends, I knew that those with developmental delays love to dance just as much as anyone else,” she said.
Williamson said she knew from the beginning that she wanted Dance for Downs to be more than just a fundraiser.
“I wanted to raise money for the clinic, but I also wanted to create an opportunity for the Birmingham community to comfortably interact with young men and women with developmental delays,” she said. “I decided that Dance for Downs could be a way to raise not only funds but to raise awareness.”
Williamson said she thinks there are a lot of students at Samford University and others in the Over the Mountain community who would like to help the cause but just aren’t sure how to lend a hand.
“This is about breaking down those barriers between the young people in our community and giving the college students a way to give back,” she said.
The first year of Dance for Downs, tickets were $1 at the door, and the event raised about $1,500 for the UAB Adult Down Syndrome Clinic. Last year, tickets were $5, and Williamson sold T-shirts and raised more than $5,500 to support programs for those with developmental delays.
This year, Williamson said, Samford University officials asked her how they could help with the event. The 2014 Dance for Downs was sponsored by the Samford University Office of Student Leadership and Engagement.
“They gave me an opportunity to put together a committee and really plan a great event this year,” she said.
Since the inaugural dance, Williamson said she’s been approached by several Samford students and others in the community who wanted to learn how to get involved during the rest of the year. So this fall, Williamson launched Bulldog Buddies at Samford. The program pairs Samford students with developmentally delayed individuals for special events on and off campus, Williamson said.
The Bulldog Buddies attended a homecoming tailgate party on campus in the fall and will get together for a picnic this week.
“They’ll be going to a Barons baseball game, and there will be other events on campus,” Williamson said. “The point is that people like my brother get to be on campus and have a feeling of that college experience.”
Williamson said she hopes the Bulldog Buddies program leads to even more awareness and involvement between college students and those with developmental delays.
“I would love for this to be something that helps people develop lifelong friendships,” she said “Dance for Downs is for just one night, but this is something that could do good in the long term.”
The Bulldog Buddies program is not the only idea Williamson has for doing good in the long term.
The family studies major will graduate in May and hopes to someday open a program for adults with developmental delays in the Birmingham area.
“There’s a real need for more programs in our area because a lot of the places have long waiting lists and the need is just growing,” she said.
For more information on the Bulldog Buddies program, visit http://samford.orgsync.com/SL_forms. For more information about Dance for Downs, visit dancefordowns.org.