On a hot summer day, the splash pad at Ballast Park in Tampa is a popular place for play dates.

  • Group for dads raising children with Down syndrome
  • Group provides support system and raises awareness
  • New members are always welcome

However, a play group created by dads is taking over.

The group is called B.E.S.T F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and each dad one thing in common: they are all raising a child with Down syndrome.

"We all had a different journey with our children, from conception to where we're at right now," said Craig Woodard, who organizes the group.

Having a child with Down syndrome has its own set of unique challenges. But these dads have a support system in each other, to help settle fears and overcome obstacles.

"We were scared at first, its normal,” said Roger Reinhardt, while holding his 17-month-old son. “I mean it's normal to be scared you just don't know what's going to happen.”

The joy their children bring to these dads is clear, and it's something they want to share with the entire Tampa Bay area.

"Children with Down syndrome may be a little bit slower physically, maybe a little bit slower mentally, but they're very sharp,” said Woodard. “They're the nicest kids ever, they are angels, and he's my hero.”

Woodard said that when new parents find out their unborn child could have Down syndrome, close to 90 percent choose to terminate the pregnancy.

Some members of the group are working on a book that details their journey with their kids, in hopes of changing that statistic.

"So if you imagine reading a book like this right before you make that decision, and you see how these kids turn out...we're going to lower that number of 90 percent," he said.

If you would like to get involved, the group is always welcoming new members.

For more information, visit www.friendssupport.org.