Best buddies

June 19th, 2015 9:07 am

First Posted: 9/17/2014

Eleven-year-old Norah Carey, of Newton Township enjoys the same types of activities as other children her age: jumping on her trampoline, playing soccer and going to birthday parties for her friends. She works hard in school, socializes with other children and adults and is described by her father, Kelly Carey, as “very full of spunk.”

“She just makes you feel good to be around,” he said.

There is one difference, however, between Norah and most of her classmates at Abington Heights Middle School. The fifth-grade student has Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder which affects physical, mental and social development.

But this condition doesn’t affect Norah’s status as a person.

Susan O’Brien, mother of Daniel O’Brien, a senior at Lakeland High School who also has Down Syndrome, explained people with the syndrome are “just like everyone else.”

“I talked to one boy at Lakeland,” she said, “and he said to me, ‘I’ve known Daniel since he was in third grade, and he’s just like me and you. He’s just like everybody else.’ He might learn a little bit slower, but he still learns.”

Daniel, along with his best friend Mikie Perry, also a Lakeland senior who has Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which leads to development problems, are working together on their senior project to help Daniel’s mother organize this year’s Buddy Walk. Scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 5 on the track at Lakeland High School, this is the 13th annual walk sponsored by the Parents of Down Syndrome (PODS) of NEPA support group. Registration begins at noon and the walk at 1 p.m., rain or shine.

“They have been friends since they were 5 years old,” Susan O’Brien said of her son and Mikie. “They have also been classmates for all those years. It seemed only fitting that these best buddies should team up to help organize this year’s walk.”

The event will also feature a DJ, face painting, food, a photo booth, cheerleading and dance demonstrations, raffles and more. There is no registration fee, but donations will be accepted and funds will be raised through the raffles. Participants will receive T-shirts with event sponsors printed on the backs.

Carey described the event, in which his family began participating 10 years ago, as “a great day for awareness of what our kids can do, and also a way to get out information about our group.”

PODS, a division of the Arc of NEPA hosts activities throughout the year, such as summer picnics, bowling, breakfast with Santa, a Knoebel’s Amusement Resort trip, Roba Family Farms day and an Easter egg hunt. The group helps fund and provide volunteers for organizations such as the Lackawanna County Challenger League for its baseball and soccer programs, Abilities 21, the Rossi Fund and more.

Carey, who works as a school psychologist at Lackawanna Trail, said the group was helpful throughout the years to him and his wife Krista, who teaches reading at Abington Heights High School, in that it provides for them a place where they can get advice and share experiences with other parents who have “been there, done that.”

He said even their younger daughter, Brynn, a fourth-grade student at Newton Ransom Elementary, who will celebrate her 10th birthday this week, benefits from the group by interacting with other children with siblings who have Down Syndrome.

“Brynn works really hard at being a good little sister to [Norah],” Carey said, “and looking out for her.”

Carey said Norah has a good social network of friends in school.

“Kids [with Down Syndrome] are becoming better included in regular education programs, with some pull-out special education support,” he said. “And it’s improving their opportunities to be working in the community.”

Carey said the Abington Heights School District has about seven other families with children who have Down Syndrome.

“That’s quite a few kids,” he said, “and when they are 18 years old, we’re going to be hoping that we find opportunities for them to work in whatever way they can here in the area. So, knowing that the kids can do a heck of a lot more than what maybe the stereotype might be, I think as we’ve improved science and the education, the kids are realizing their potential a lot better.”