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If you go
What: 15th annual Buddy Walk sponsored by Down Syndrome Association of Northeast Indiana
When: Pre-walk activities begin at 10 a.m. Saturday; the 1.6-mile walk begins at 11 a.m.
Where: Shoaff Park, 6401 St. Joe Road
Admission: Free to participants and spectators; however, donations encouraged. To register, call 471-9964 or www.dsani.org.
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Kristy Meeks hangs clothes on a clothing rack at the Goodwill store in Covington Plaza.

Grand marshal just one of many hats for Goodwill worker

Goodwill worker is grand marshal of Buddy Walk

Kristy Meeks has a sunny disposition and a work ethic that makes her an asset to her employer, the Goodwill store in Covington Plaza.

While some might call her a merchandiser, Meeks simply calls herself a “hanger” – she puts donated clothing on hangers so they can be sorted and tagged and placed in their proper spots on the store’s huge display floor crowded with racks of women’s tops, men’s hoodies and kids’ jeans.

This weekend, Meeks will have a different job – she’ll be leading the annual Buddy Walk sponsored by the Down Syndrome Association of Northeast Indiana at Shoaff Park in Fort Wayne.

“It’s going to feel great,” she says of her role as the walk’s grand marshal. It means she’ll give a little speech onstage and say the traditional “Get ready, set, walk!” that kicks off the event, which annually attracts around 1,000 people.

Organizers hope to raise $80,000 this year for the organization’s 11-county area.

Meeks says she got the honor because “I worked at Goodwill and I was a good worker, and they think I would be a good role model.”

And does this busy 21-year-old ever play a lot of roles.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she’s at the store for three hours each day. Mondays, she goes to classes at Life Adult Day Academy, and on every other Wednesday, she rehearses as a member of a worship team at Emmanuel Community Church.

Tuesday nights, she’s a dancer in classes at Premier Dance Studio, where she has performed with the Soul Sisters group, and Sunday afternoons, she’s a teammate for basketball or baseball games.

And of course, now and then she just likes being a friend, hanging out with her best friend – “We go back to middle school,” Meeks says – and her friend’s younger sister.

Kathy Meeks, Kristy’s mom, says she’s encouraged her daughter and made clear that she could enjoy a well-rounded life despite the extra chromosome and the cognitive disabilities and health concerns that come with having Down syndrome.

Kathy, 56, recalls the time that her daughter came to her after watching the worship group.

“She watched them, and she liked it, and she said, ‘Why can’t I be up there?’ ” she says. “So we went to the person who oversaw it, and they said, ‘Why not?’ This is her fourth year.”

When her daughter wanted more social opportunities, Kathy and Kristy started a Friendship Club, so teens and young adults with Down syndrome could have pool parties and social events, such as an upcoming hayride and Halloween dance. The club started with eight but now has 35 members.

At present, one of Kristy’s major goals is getting her own place. Kathy and her husband, Daniel, 56, a police officer, have already bought a house, and Kristy has watched as her older brother, Jordan, 26, moved out and became independent.

She’s not sure whether she wants to live on her own or with a roommate or aide, but she’s gradually realizing that independence will mean a lot of cooking, laundry and paying bills.

“We’ve kind of told her we have a transition plan,” her mother says. “We have our destination, but we’re not entirely sure how to get there.”

But Kathy says she thinks Kristy will accomplish whatever she sets out to do. For now, Kathy says she’s still relying on her daughter at home to help her when she has trouble with the DVR or the satellite TV network or wants to post something to Facebook.

“She’s a Facebook guru,” Kathy says. “She’s the techie around here.”

“I live on Facebook,” Kristy says.

Asked how she figured out the plug-in world, she just smiles.

“It’s because of my dad,” she says. “He’s into tech stuff, and he taught me everything.”

rsalter@jg.net

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