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Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Beach Day in Wildwood Invigorates 21 Down Group with Lifeguards’ Help

Pam Ginet and her son

By Karen Knight

WILDWOOD – The day started with thunderstorms and a forecast of rain, but it is the Jersey Shore where the weather is known to change often. So Billy Auty, a Wildwood lifeguard and founder of what’s become the Seventh Annual Beach Day with 21 Down, a Down syndrome awareness group, decided to “throw the dice” July 27 and keep the event scheduled as planned.
“I thought it might get canceled but then the sun came out,” said Douglas Petersen, who lives in Philadelphia and is part of the 21 Down organization. His family has a summer home in Wildwood.
“With my two best buds, Billy and Pat (Patrick Casey, a Wildwood lifeguard), it (the Beach Day being held) made my day,” he said.
This was the third year that Petersen participated in Beach Day, an event which started with the simple concept of providing special-needs children a day at the beach, riding waves they might not typically feel comfortable attempting alone.
Although Petersen thought the “surf was rough,” he was enjoying a somewhat overcast day on the beach, running in and out of the waves and hanging out with the lifeguards.
“I used to work with special-needs children at a school near Santa Barbara, Calif.,” Auty said, “and wanted to do something here for special-needs children and the ocean.”
A lifeguard for over 20 years, he said he initially reached out to several organizations to see if they were interested in a beach day, and 21 Down responded.
“When we started, we had four families,” he noted. This year, 20 Wildwood lifeguards volunteered their time with about 30 other volunteers to provide “extra eyes” on about 40 families, mostly from Atlantic and Cape May counties.
“It gives them a chance to get on the beach, get comfortable with the surf and boards, and it’s great to watch their faces light up,” Pam Ginet, treasurer of 21 Down, added about the event participants. Her 15-year-old son, Zach, was among the beach goers.
The Down syndrome children and adults, who ranged in age from 4 to their 40s, spent the afternoon riding waves in tandem with lifeguards on soft-top paddleboats.
Short breaks for lifeguard-style relay races, lunch, cold beverages and ice cream were also provided, along with lessons in beach safety.
“It’s a great opportunity for the 21 Down organization families to have fun,” said Lauren Auty, who helped organize the event with her husband. “It’s also a time parents who have similar children can spend together and share. The kids are full of personality; there’s one young lady that works at Acme. She works her day shift and then makes sure she gets to the beach just to be able to enjoy the afternoon with the guards. It’s just a great feeling to be able to provide this time for them.”
A non-profit, 21 Down (http://www.21down.org/), is a Down syndrome awareness group serving families, educators and healthcare professionals of Atlantic and Cape May counties.
Together 21 Down creates a network of families who share information and support, including networking with families in Philadelphia.
This was the first time the event was held in Wildwood.
To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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