With the help of Snohomish firefighter Aaron Hamme, Evy Lewis spray water on a simulated fire at the annual Friendship Festival at Harvey Field on Saturday in Snohomish. The event was put on by the Down Syndrome Association of Snohomish County. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

With the help of Snohomish firefighter Aaron Hamme, Evy Lewis spray water on a simulated fire at the annual Friendship Festival at Harvey Field on Saturday in Snohomish. The event was put on by the Down Syndrome Association of Snohomish County. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Friendship Festival celebrates people with Down syndrome

“Once you’re part of the Down Syndrome Association, you’re part of a family,” said the event organizer.

SNOHOMISH — Brianna Bylund snuggled in her mom’s arms as an artist painted her left cheek.

Before it was clear what the design was, the 4-year-old turned her head, smearing the paint. She waited patiently as the artist started again.

Minutes later, Brianna was out in the grass in a misting rain, dancing to live music. An orange bow bounced in her blonde hair. Her mom, Rilla Bylund, smiled as she watched.

Brianna was one of dozens of people with Down syndrome who gathered with families and friends at the annual Friendship Festival Saturday at Harvey Field. It was put on by the Down Syndrome Association of Snohomish County.

Several years ago, the festival took the place of the local Buddy Walk. There’s still a walk, but it’s part of a larger event with games, music, food trucks and crafts.

It’s an annual fundraiser for the association. The money goes toward play groups, care baskets, get-togethers throughout the year, scholarships and other educational support.

Bylund has been part of the association since Brianna, her youngest daughter, was born. It’s a close community, she said. The group puts together care kits, including letters from other parents, to give to new mothers and fathers of children with Down syndrome.

“I never got that, so it’s nice to be part of an organization that does this for other parents,” Bylund said.

She wants people to understand the added joy Brianna and others with Down syndrome bring to those around them.

“Before having her, I thought these kids were different and lot of work,” Bylund said. “She’s so similar to my 5-year-old. They both love the bubble man. They both like the animals.”

The giant bubbles and the petting zoo were among the activities at the festival. There were pony rides, hacky sack, golf and a game where rubber frogs were catapulted into the air by hitting a board with a mallet.

Last year’s festival brought in about $20,000.

The Down Syndrome Association focuses on acceptance and inclusion, vice president Kate Taylor said. Other events are planned, including an auction. The public always is welcome, she said.

“We’re a family,” festival chairman Rory Bennett said. “Once you’re part of the Down Syndrome Association, you’re part of a family.”

Taylor, Bennett and Allison Gibson, president of the group, are parents of children with Down syndrome.

Gibson wishes other people understood that her daughter is capable of achieving her dreams. She may accomplish things in her own time, and in her own way, but she can contribute just like anyone else.

It’s a sentiment shared by other parents.

“We’re all running a race in life, we just run at different paces,” Bennett said.

Robyn Fischer, of Everett, came to the festival with her daughter, Evie, 4. It was their second year.

“They’re so welcoming and open,” Fischer said. “The only expectation is to have fun.”

Evie is fearless and a quick learner. Though she struggles to communicate verbally, she understands what others tell her and easily figures out games. At the festival, she tossed hacky sacks and launched the rubber frogs into the air. In rainboots decorated with cartoon pigs, Evie climbed on top of a slanted board to retrieve a wayward hacky sack. Her mom urged her to climb back down.

“That’s my daredevil daughter,” she said. “She did the pony rides, too. And, of course, she chose the big horse over the little horse.”

Seth Perera, 19, explored the festival with his dad, Senal Perera. Seth planned to meet up with his Special Olympics bowling team later that afternoon.

The Snohomish family used to go to the Buddy Walk in King County and were thrilled when an event started close to home, Senal Perera said. They live in Snohomish. Seth Perera is in a transitions education program for young adults and volunteers a few hours a week at the library.

The best way to enjoy the Friendship Festival is to take your time, Seth said.

“Just have a great day.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

The Down Syndrome Association of Snohomish County is looking for employers interested in hiring and training workers with Down syndrome. Employers can email connections@dsasc.org.

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