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End the Stigma: The Walk for Mental Health Awareness Houston Returns

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By Donalevan Maines
Photo by Dalton DeHart

A gong—not a gun or an air horn—will signal the start of the sixth annual Walk for Mental Health Awareness Houston on Saturday, October 8, in Stude Park.

“I am startled by loud noises because I have PTSD,” explains out founding director C. Patrick McIlvain, “so we have a soft mallet instead of a starter gun. We do not have a finish line, either; instead, we have the Arch of Breakthrough, where we drape you with a medal and make eye contact.”

Built and designed by Horse Head Theatre Company, the Arch of Breakthrough was named by out Judge Steven Kirkland, says McIlvain. “It acknowledges people achieving breakthroughs while out with us.”

The 5K walk, and the expo that follows, is the culmination of three days of events that will begin with a World Mental Health Day rally at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 10.

The opening rally, held at the reflection pool in front of Houston City Hall, 901 Bagby Street, is the kick-start of a positive public-dialogue campaign, says McIlvain. “Houston City Hall will be illuminated in the official mental-health awareness color, lime green, as we raise the public volume on our #PositivePublicDialog and walk to #EndtheStigma.”

The next day, a noon luncheon catered by Hickory Hollow will be held at United Way of Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Drive. Entitled “Passing Forward Our Positive Public Dialog,” this year’s guest speakers are Julena Alise Wynn, author of Losing It: Mental Health Awareness, and Aurva Kapoor, an instructor with the Art of Living Foundation.

“The luncheon emcee will be Ariana Montelongo de Valdivia,” says McIlvain.

Sign-in begins at 11:30 a.m., and luncheon tickets are $30.

Pre-registration for the Saturday walk is $25 for ages 12 and up, or $30 at the event, when walkers begin showing up at 6:30 a.m.

Each walker chooses a participating mental-health-related nonprofit “Walk Agency” to benefit, with each agency receiving 90 percent of all funds raised on its behalf. McIlvain notes that they have almost doubled the number of participating agencies this year—including The Walk Houston, Body Love 4 All, Crisis Intervention of Houston, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder, the Montrose Center, Brazoria County Gulf Coast Center, United Health Partners, Prosumers Houston, Bee Busy Wellness Center, Houston Galveston Institute, Hope and Healing Center & Institute, Family Houston, The Harris School, Legacy Community Health, Northwest Assistance Ministries, Worklife Institute, Project Autism, and the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD.

McIlvain hopes this year’s walk will raise $35,000, improving on last year’s total of more than $27,000.

“Through our first five walks, we have assisted our walk agencies in raising over $100,000,” he says. “We are an all-volunteer organization, and besides me, our biggest volunteer is Trinidad Garcia.”

This year, each walker will also get to participate in an art project by filling out a card that says, “I do the walk because __________.”

“While they are walking, artist Reginald Charles Adams will incorporate the cards into an interactive ‘pop-up brain labyrinth,’” says McIlvain.

In addition, there will be an inflatable walk-through brain “to get people excited” about a feature that will debut next year called the Children’s Corner. That area will have youth activities that teach about developing a positive body image, positive self-expression, and anti-bullying strategies, explains McIlvain.

Already in place is a “pup tent” that Bayou City Veterinary Hospital sponsors for canines. “It’s staffed by the folks from Northside Dawgs, an education group that encourages responsible pet ownership,” says McIlvain. “All doggies must be on a leash with a collar.”

Guests will also be treated to health-food samples in the “nutrition court” assembled by Jenni Tranweaver of Jenni’s Noodle House. “Diet is so very important to us all, and more so if you are facing the daily challenges of any chronic illness,” explains McIlvain. “We want to show what a healthy meal looks like, how to prepare it, or where to go to get one.”

Alexis Kauchick, founder of all-organic Eternal Essence Candles, is coming from Florida with products that she sells to support mental-illness research.

As always, former mayor Annise Parker will be present, but the plan is for her to pass the lime-green starting mallet on to mayor Sylvester Turner, her successor at City Hall, if his schedule doesn’t conflict. “For people living with PTSD or schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or fighting against panic-attacks and depression, we can make a difference,” says Parker.

The Houston Walk “allows all of us to show our support for our friends and our neighbors, or even to stand up for ourselves,” she adds. “It gives us an opportunity to say publicly many of the things that we need to, in order to put more money, more influence, and more political muscle behind finding cures for these types of mental illnesses.”

McIlvain says, “The walk is about creating a safe and welcoming event where there is no judgment about how we look, walk, talk, or any tics that we may express. It is a place that is held in high respect and made ready so all of our guests can receive all of the positive energy and empowerment that is due all humans.”

You can get details at thehoustonwalk.org or 713.705.7058.

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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