The National Down Syndrome Society selected photographs of four Tucsonans to appear on a jumbo screen in Times Square for Saturday morning’s Buddy Walk in New York City.
The slideshow spotlights kids, teens and adults with Down syndrome. A selection committee sifted through more than 2,000 photos, picking about 400 for the slideshow, said Steve Freeman, who was recently nominated to the National Down Syndrome Society’s board in May.
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. In Pima County, there are more than 1,000 people with Down syndrome, according to a rough analysis by the University of Arizona’s Down Syndrome Research Group of an Arizona Department of Health Services report on birth defects.
Freeman already had plans to be in New York City this weekend to attend the society’s board meeting and participate in the Buddy Walk.
But now, it’s all the sweeter.
Dominique Freeman, 19
“When we found out Dominique’s photo was selected, that was icing on the cake,” said Freeman, a proud papa. Selections were based on photos alone by a committee separate from the board, he said.
His wife, Kathy Freeman, made plans to join him in Times Square to catch a glimpse of their daughter beaming in a photo from a summer get-together.
Dominique can’t make it — the Freemans didn’t want to pull her out of the UA’s two-year Project Focus program.
Instead, they hope to return to the Big Apple when Dominique graduates the program in May.
“(The photo selection) is an achievement that we can cheer and another way we can document what has been going on in her life,” said Steve, who will co-chair the Tucson Buddy Walk with Kathy for the third time this year. They have participated in the Tucson walk since 2007. Steve is also the president of the Southern Arizona Network for Down Syndrome executive board.
AndresDiego Herrera, 5
For a 5-year-old, AndresDiego Herrera has gotten some major big screen love.
The snapshot of him grinning on a quad at Rocky Point is his third to appear in the Times Square slideshow. In past years, photos have featured AndresDiego with a sombrero and in another, wearing camouflage and holding a U.S. flag.
“He is just like any other kid trying to have fun, being a child and learning,” said his mother, BerthaCecilia Herrera. “This touches the heart of others and lets others see that these kids are just like you and me.”
AndresDiego, the youngest of five, started kindergarten this year and loves swinging, playing with blocks and playing Xbox with his teenage brother.
On the Rocky Point trip, he swam in the ocean for the first time.
“He could swim in it all day,” Herrera said.
Lani Fuentes-Cordova, 20
Winning homecoming queen at Mountain View High School in 2013 is the victory that just doesn’t stop for Lani Fuentes-Cordova.
After her win, she posed for the camera, wearing a tiara, sash and silver Converse shoes. Her mom, Traci Cordova, submitted the photo for the Buddy Walk slideshow.
“It lets other people see how beautiful she is,” Traci said of her daughter, who is now done with high school.
Picking a photo was tough for Traci. Every photo showcases part of Lani’s personality, she said, and these days her daughter takes a lot of selfies.
“I narrowed it down and I just closed my eyes and pointed, and that’s how I came up with it,” Traci said.
Her daughter loves to dance, especially to the boy band One Direction and the song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silentó.
“She is happy 99.9 percent of the time,” Traci said.
Arianna Graham, 10 months
Mike and Andrea Graham waited 10 years to adopt a child with Down syndrome. Finally, after years of close calls, they found Arianna.
The couple has nine children — four, including Arianna, are adopted.
“Everyone loves her to death, and she loves everybody just the same,” Andrea said. “She has learned to give kisses, too — well, they are more like she is eating your chin.”
Arianna had heart surgery in Phoenix in June. Now, she is finally gaining weight and has “little rolls on her legs,” Andrea said. She no longer tuckers out after more than an hour or two awake and recently sat up by herself.
In July, Andrea snapped a photo of her then-8-month-old daughter in a patriotic tutu.
When the family found out the photo was selected in August, “I was a blubbering mess,” Andrea said. The other kids cheered.
The family can’t make it to the New York Buddy Walk and is moving to the state of Washington soon.
But Andrea wrangled a deal with her husband.
If 10 people signed up for Arianna’s Butterfly Brigade, the team for the family’s first Buddy Walk, Andrea, Arianna and possibly a few sisters would fly back for the walk in November.
At least 15 people have joined the team so far.