321 Buddy Fundraising opens new resource center in Tacoma

It’s a free location and space for individuals with Down syndrome, along with friends and family.

Nonprofit organization 321 Buddy Fundraising officially cut the ribbon on a new resource center in Tacoma last month.

Founder and executive director for 321 Buddy Fundraising, Alisha Vilela, said they opened the new facility, called A Place for Me, as a free location and space for individuals with Down syndrome, along with friends and family, to access information for resources and support for self-development.

“Our huge focus is around inclusion in all spaces including employment and educational spaces,” Vilela said.

Vilela said she started the nonprofit to provide community and fundraising events focused toward the Down syndrome community in Pierce County after she had a child with Down syndrome herself.

“Learning about my son’s diagnosis and figuring out what that meant for us and our family was very overwhelming for me and was something that nobody in my life had experienced before,” Vilela said. “As we’ve opened up into the community and started strengthening our local community, we have started to build friendships and supports that have really helped guide our journey.”

Vilela hopes that 321 Buddy Fundraising can foster a community where others with loved ones with Down syndrome can lean on each other for advice and support.

“We are only about four years into our journey and there is so much we can learn from other families and other people,” Vilela said.

Vilela said she has seen a lot of growth on how the special needs community is included in society over the past decades, but wants 321 Buddy Fundraising to continue to push the bar.

“I think there have been some amazing strengths that have happened since the ’80s and ’90s. However, there is so much more room to grow,” Vilela said. “I think that as a community we can work together to make a better environment and a better society that is inclusive to our children and our loved ones who have special needs.”

The new resource center is located at 1918 112th St. E in Tacoma and will provide the organization a space to host events and workshops for the community.

“It is going to allow us to connect with other families that are having similar experiences,” Vilela said. “It is also going to allow us to connect with providers that have amazing knowledge around the special needs community.”

Vilela said they plan to host specialists to share information about a variety of topics such as dual-diagnosis, Special Olympics and information on medical research about individuals with Down syndrome.

“There’s lots of opportunity for us to know more about what’s available to our families and also figure out how that can better benefit us with our growth,” Vilela said.

Vilela said they also plan to provide therapy for siblings of children with special needs.

“A lot of the siblings of individuals with special needs really take a backseat to a lot of the medical issues our kids are experiencing so this would really allow them to have a place where they can connect and understand what they have been going through and partner with others,” Vilela said.

In June, 321 Buddy Fundraising is planning to host a dinner retreat for moms with individuals with Down Syndrome hosted by small businesses in Gig Harbor called Bloom. The event is already sold out.

However, their biggest event and fundraiser of the year is the Buddy Walk on October 5 at Franklin Pierce Stadium. Proceeds from the event go directly to A Place for Me.

“We do a quarter mile walk with all of the families and everyone there to support. Last year we had almost 1,500 people show up,” Vilela said. “It’s really just a big celebration where we focus on educating and advocating and celebrating individuals with Down syndrome.”

Vilela said the organization’s website, 321buddy.org, is a good place to learn more information, to sign up for the buddy walk or to donate.

“This community has been the biggest blessing of my life and when I learned about my son’s diagnosis I was devastated, I was scared, and I was so alone,” Vilela said. “Now I feel like my world is so blessed and has so much beauty surrounding it because of this community.”

Vilela said 321 Buddy Fundraising is completely volunteer-based and is always wanting more people to come help out their cause.

“We are always looking for volunteers, but I think the reason we have so many people volunteering is because this community is so welcoming, so embracing and so empowering,” Vilela said. “I would just invite anyone in the community to come join us because they won’t regret it.”