Dressed in an oversized orange Easterseals T-shirt, James Lewis smiled and walked through the Baywood Greens golf course with his family for the annual Walk With Me 5K. James was diagnosed with Down Syndrome shortly after his birth. Now at 7 years old, he served as the ambassador for the Walk With Me 5K Oct 17. The event included games, music and even a live baby kangaroo.
Each year, Walk With Me raises funds that provide services for both children and adults in the Sussex County community, according to Linda Forte, an organizer of the event.
James got involved with the Easterseals children’s therapy program shortly after his diagnosis. It offers physical, speech and occupational therapy.
Easterseals started over 100 years ago in response to the polio crisis, which largely affected children. Since then, Easterseals has expanded its services to span across the lifetime. Some of these services include employment training and adult day care programs for seniors.
“Anyone who needs help can call us, and we can help them work through what they need. If we don’t have what they need, we know who does,” Forte said.
For Tracy Lewis, James’ mother, Easterseals was her lifeline for helping her son grow and thrive. “Easterseals provides skills along the way throughout the whole life span, so that both children and adults can be meaningfully included in their community and possibly someday get a job where they can give back to that community,” she said.
For Forte, it’s stories like James’ that drive her passion for Easterseals’ mission. “I had a mom come up to me one time and tell me that when her son was 2 years old he couldn’t walk and was having all kinds of issues. No doctors could help. So she took her son to Eastseals once a week for a year and a half. Today, he’s the goalie on his lacrosse team in college.”
The event first got started in 2013 and has since grown. This year, it raised over $55,000, which will go straight back into the community.