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Tens of thousands of residents gathered in Omaha Sunday to celebrate the 21st annual Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk

OMAHA, Nebraska – At the 21st annual Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk, held on Sunday afternoon in Werner Park, tens of thousands of metro area residents gathered to honor their family and friends who are affected by Down syndrome.

“My youngest daughter’s name is Ella, and she is almost four years old. We are celebrating her and everyone else who has Down syndrome,” says Serenity Raver, who has attended the event for four consecutive years.

The event, presented by the Down Syndrome Alliance of the Midlands, encourages family and friends to form teams and put up tailgating tents in the Werner Park parking lot to generate donations for the organization.

This year, more than 120 teams registered, each wearing a T-shirt honoring a family member with Down syndrome.

“Everyone needs love, and we must ‘Ella-vate above hate,'” Raver says, pointing to her clothing, as she states. There is so much hatred in the world, and we have no need for it.

This is the second year in a row that Raver and her team have received the largest team prize, allowing them to bring over one hundred friends and family members to the festival.

She adds, “I’m thrilled that we have so much love and support for Ella, who is not even four years old yet.”

There were sensory games, carnival rides, a DJ, and even a parking lot dance party at the one-mile walk and festival.

The funds earned at the event will enable the Down Syndrome Alliance of the Midlands to continue its efforts in advocacy, support, and awareness.

Families such as the Raver family claim that it helps to destigmatize and educate.

“They can speak, work, and live independently; there are so many various things they can do. With Ella, we always emphasize what she can do rather than what she can’t.”

Before Sunday’s event began, organizers reported that they surpassed their $140,000 fundraising goal.

According to Executive Director Leah Boldt, as of Wednesday morning, the organization has already surpassed their goal of $140,000. “It’s incredible to see the community come out and show such support.”

Upon learning that her now 10-year-old son has Down syndrome, Boltd also became engaged with the event and organization.

“We want it to be a day of celebration, as well as an awareness event, so that people with Down syndrome can enjoy themselves with their families and friends.”

The event takes place only days before October’s Down Syndrome Awareness Month begins.

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