Valley residents selected for Times Square video on Down syndrome awareness

Clockwise from top left, Aaron Jesus Zamora, 6, from Edinburg; Jackie A. Mata, 19, from Mission; Viva Selena Lopez, 25, from Palmview; John David Hernandez, 15 months, from Raymondville; and Nahitza Anahí Hurtado, 19, from McAllen were selected to participate in the 25th annual New York City Buddy Walk, which will take place in Times Square on Sep. 12. (Courtesy Photo)

The Rio Grande Valley will be well represented this September during the 25th annual New York City Buddy Walk.

The annual event is part of the National Down Syndrome Society’s annual Times Square video presentation to kickoff Down Syndrome Awareness month, and this year five individuals from the Valley were selected to participate.

“It’s awesome because the National Down Syndrome Society selects pictures of people with Down syndrome from across the U.S. living lives to the fullest, and they put the pictures in Times Square,” Deborah Tomai, co-founder of the Rio Grande Valley Down Syndrome Association said.

The photos will be displayed on the digital billboards in Times Square during the event.

Usually the event features a massive walk, called the Buddy Walk, but this year the event will be virtual due to COVID-19.

“They’re still going to do the video in Times Square,” Tomai said. “It’s going to be live on Facebook. I think we’re going to get a large group of people together to watch it online via Zoom so that we can celebrate kids and adults from the Valley being recognized.”

This year’s selections include Aaron Jesus Zamora, 6, from Edinburg; John David Hernandez, 15 months, from Raymondville; Nahitza Anahí Hurtado, 19, from McAllen; Jackie A. Mata, 19, from Mission; and Viva Selena Lopez, 25, from Palmview.

The group represents the largest selection from the Valley for the event.

“We’re really excited,” Tomai said. “It’s nice because the folks who were selected are a very diverse group.”

The Valley group make up five of the 500 photographs who will appear in the video in Times Square. This year’s event is anticipated to have over 325,000 participants throughout the country.

“All of the individuals who are being spotlighted in New York are all part of RGVDSA,” Tomai said. “We really believe that it’s important for our community and the world to know that people with Down syndrome have value and can live independent and fulfilling lives with friends and family and be a part of the community. Events like this are wonderful because that’s what they show.

“I think it helps parents of young kids with Down syndrome to see the potential, and it helps all of us to know the possibilities for our family members.”

Mary Jane Lopez, who is the mother of Viva Lopez, said that her daughter was ecstatic when she heard the news about her photo being selected.

“She started jumping up and down,” Mary Jane said about the Venom HypeSquad member. “She goes, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be in a big TV.’ And then she went snap, snap, snap. Her and her attitude, that’s why they call her Diva Viva.”

The virtual Buddy Walk is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12. For information about the NDSS Buddy Walk Program, visit www.buddywalk.org or call (800) 221-4602.