Down syndrome group helping local families

The Costa Mesa-based Down Syndrome Assn. of Orange County has two full-time and one part-time paid staffers. The rest are volunteers.

It is these volunteers whom parents like Lisa Piraino said they depend on to make the activities fulfilling.

For years Piraino has had her daughter Karina, 14, in programs facilitated through the association. Karina has been participating in a therapeutic horseback riding class for three years, though she is taking a break right now.

Kellie Perez, the association's director of community relations, said the association often recommends the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center in San Juan Capistrano, which is funded by donations, but there is also the Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club in Newport Beach.

Piraino, a Laguna Niguel resident, said she likes the Back Bay group because it is smaller and she is able to know the volunteers on a personal level.

She said the volunteers push Karina to do things that a typical kid could do. They gave her more responsibility on the horse, which allowed her to show her independence.

"Karina was able to hold her posture and maintain her balance, and in the arena she could come through the cones and respond to verbal commands," Piraino said.

To make activities like these possible the association often relies on community-minded businesses in the area.

For example, when the association asked the Behr Process Corp. in Santa Ana if the company could donate paint for its activity center in Costa Mesa, Behr's community service group went the extra step by volunteering to do the work on March 11, including an Orange County-themed mural.

The association also goes the fundraising route to make sure they can keep the activities available.

Perez said her favorite fundraisers allow for participation by some of the people with Down syndrome. A recent golf tournament allowed for a four to six people with Down syndrome to join a game and do the ceremonial first drive.

The volunteers and funding provides for life skill workshops and activities like the Buddy Walk, which is the association's biggest fundraiser and brings together families and community members to connect and learn more about Down syndrome.

For information, call (714) 540-5794 or visit

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