The Up Side of Downs hosts its annual Buddy Walk on Saturday, August 25, and you can be a part of the fun

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The USOD operates entirely on private donations and relies on the Buddy Walk and other fundraisers to help fund the many programs it offers. 96¢ of every $1.00 raised at the Buddy Walk goes to local programs for families in Northeast Ohio.

By Mary Malik

The Up Side of Downs (USOD) began over 30 years ago as a parent-run, volunteer-supported organization for the parents of children with Down syndrome. Initially, the focus of the USOD was on the inclusion of children with Down syndrome in their schools and communities.

Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra chromosome 21, which results in varying degrees of cognitive delays. Early intervention programs along with therapies help individuals with Down syndrome to reach their potential. The USOD provides individuals and families with knowledge and support. 

“Today, the USOD serves over 900 families in 16 counties in Northeast Ohio,” says the USOD executive director, Toni Mullee. “We partner with the National Down Syndrome Society for our biggest yearly fundraiser, the Buddy Walk.”


The Buddy Walk is a one-mile walk taking place on Saturday, August 25, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Palava Hut Pavilion. 

“There will be food, beverages and entertainment for all ages,” says Toni. “There will be costumed superheroes, princesses and a special Club Bud area for individuals with Down syndrome ages 16 and over. It’s a great way to show support for this community.”

The USOD operates entirely on private donations and relies on the Buddy Walk and other fundraisers to help fund the many programs it offers.

“Our services include family support, advocacy, education, medical outreach and social programs for all ages of individuals with Down syndrome and their families,” says Toni. 

“A recent addition to our support programming is focused on adult siblings of adults with Down syndrome, who may need to become more active in the futures of their siblings. People with Down syndrome are living longer, healthier lives and their siblings often get involved in family decision-making.”

The USOD meets the needs of the individuals and families they serve as those needs occur. 

For example, the USOD’s school outreach involves meeting with IEP teams to advocate for children with Down syndrome and facilitate their educational experiences. The USOD provides reading and math enrichment programs, training for professionals working with students with Down syndrome and summer programs and activities.

“We work with medical professionals to provide them with the most up-to-date research,” says Toni. “We strive to raise awareness about the abilities of people with Down syndrome and showcase their talents.”


The Artful 21 shop is a project the USOD began two years ago to give artisans and small business owners with Down syndrome a place to sell their products. The store is located within the USOD office in Independence and items created by over 20 artisans from all over the country are represented. 

Jake Rose, a 22-year-old with Down syndrome from Orange, is one of the artisans whose decorative magnets, Jake’s Gems, are available at Artful 21. Jake also works at the shop three days a week as a salesperson and cashier. 

“Jewelry, soaps, artwork and accessories are available at Artful 21 and 90 percent of what is purchased goes back to the artisans,” says Toni. “You are directly supporting these individuals in their small business ventures and we’re always looking for new artisans.”

USOD is proud to support and celebrate the achievements and the potential of individuals of all ages with Down syndrome. 

Up Side of Downs is located at 6533-B, Brecksville Rd., in Independence. For more information on the Buddy Walk, Artful21 and the services of USOD, call 216-447 USOD (8763), or check the website USOD.org

Categories: Westside Smart Living