On Saturday, October 19th, under a mist of rain, 1,635 individuals came together in the Innsbrook area of Richmond for the National Alliance on Mental Health’s annual walk. The event was hosted by NAMI Virginia and a wide range of community partners, and it was part of a national day of walk in many cities. The purpose of the walk was to raise both awareness and fund for continued support of those with mental illness and their loved ones.
There were the usual fun and helpful activities, such as a play area for children, water and snacks, art making to support the cause, and warm up and post-walk stretching. What was also present was a sense of community – that we are all in this fight together and that we share this path together. The event hosted individuals with mental illness as well as their caregivers, family members, friends, counselors, and pet dogs. The 5k walk was pleasantly relaxed, and I was fortunate to be able to share the walk with both my husband, who was there supporting the field I’ve dedicated my career to, and a friend, who is a youth program coordinator at a local art organization. There were musical bands of young and old members cheering us on, and several stations where walkers were encouraged to share their “message of hope” through art making. The highlight was a serendipitous encounter with a former client from the program where I work, The Child and Family Healing Center at United Methodist Family Services. The youth had recently left our program, and he was there with his foster mother. I was glad to see his big smile and to get a positive update on his life after residential treatment.
It is important that we, as art therapists, work together with other mental health supporters of all walks while maintaining our efforts to further strengthen as a professional field. The larger picture is that we all want to help those in need and make people’s lives better in some way. Participating in walks such as this as an individual or as a group is a great way to say, “We Are Here”.
If you are interested in supporting NAMI Virginia, please visit http://namivirginia.org/.
by Mariko Saito