BY LOIS MAHARG
If the threat of rain kept some people home, you wouldn’t have known it. About 900 volunteers gathered on Belle Isle on Sept. 28 to do the annual 5K NAMI Walk and raise funds in support of mental health.
“We’re going to do this in spite of the weather,” said Susan Baskett, umbrella and raincoat at the ready. “As a new volunteer for the Washtenaw NAMI, I’m just thrilled to be here. This is my first walk,” she said, shouting amid music and dancing that was going on across from the James Scott Memorial Fountain on the grass.
David Hulet, another first-time walker for NAMI Washtenaw, was also enthusiastic about raising funds for — and awareness of — mental health challenges.
“I think it’s really important to try and end the stigma around mental health,” Hulet said, posing with other Washtenaw Walkers for a photo in front of the fountain. Hulet first found NAMI in 2016, at a time when he could not afford medication or therapy.
“I was just googling, like, free mental health help, and that’s how I found NAMI,” Hulet said. “And the first thing I did with NAMI was Peer-to-Peer,” NAMI’s class for people living with mental health conditions. “Now I’m a trained Peer-to-Peer leader and I’m working on giving back.”
Several walkers were dressed in colorful clothing, some with T-shirts bearing the NAMI logo and the names of various affiliates in Michigan. Some marched arm in arm. Others were pushing babies in strollers and still others were walking dogs. The walk was accessible to all, including people in wheelchairs. It was routed along paved roads and the pace was relaxed.
Some supporters return to the NAMI Walk year after year.
“I’ve been doing this for many years, I’d say, since 2005,” said NAMI Washtenaw volunteer Judy Krieg. “And I enjoy the vibe, walking around Belle Isle, all the people. Every year it’s getting bigger and bigger.” Krieg said she considers promoting mental health a personal mission. Hearing about NAMI Washtenaw, she wanted to become involved.
“I wanted to walk with you guys [last year], but there were so many people I couldn’t find you. So I stopped by the office after the walk and we got talking. We talked about being a board member and I sent Judy [Gardner] my resume.” Krieg was appointed to the board in November 2018.
This year the Washtenaw Walkers raised almost $7,000. NAMI Washtenaw’s portion will be used to fund its many programs and the rest will go to NAMI Michigan, the organizer of the event.