- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Hundreds of volunteers gathered to mismatch tens of thousands of brightly colored socks at Springer Middle School in Brandywine Hundred.

The party Saturday was a precursor to thousands of local school students celebrating World Down Syndrome Awareness Day by rocking mismatched socks on March 21.

About 500 people turned up to unpack some 50,000 pairs of colorful socks and mismatch them. The socks will be distributed to 150 schools throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The idea is to have a day dedicated to fostering conversation among students about why children with Down syndrome are different and why it’s OK to be different, said Kristin Pidgeon, with the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware.

“The socks are a conversation starter. The goal is to get people to talk to each other about Down syndrome,” Pidgeon said. “You also get a cool pair of socks to celebrate that everyone has differences.”

The Rock Your Socks campaign is now in its third year. It has grown from 7,200 pairs of socks to its current 50,000, and Pidgeon expects next year’s event to be even bigger.

An estimated 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States, and more than 400,000 people in America have it, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. Down syndrome is caused when a child is born with an extra chromosome in his or her genes. That affects development, which can lead to low muscle tone, changed facial features and intellectual disabilities.

Jeanne Jerzak, a Bear resident whose 18-year-old daughter Carolyn has Down syndrome, said the support means everything to families. She spent the day sorting socks and afterward said she felt even more “revved-up” than she was in the morning.

“The support, the encouragement, the happiness and camaraderie that people give us constantly means the world to me,” Jerzak said.

Susan Blessington, the Glenn Mills mother of 6-year-old Connor, who has Down syndrome, said reaching out and helping other kids understand Down syndrome has helped her son become part of a group.

“They get to see what is like and there is nothing wrong with that. It is wonderful to be able to talk about it,” Blessington said. “It is so important just to open a dialogue. Kids have so many questions, but are afraid to ask.”

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Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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