Walk the Walk focuses on mental health

TCH event has two goals: start a conversation, raise funds for counseling department

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, it was clear The Community House's annual spring fundraiser would not take place in April.

What wasn't clear was whether the Walk the Walk for Mental Health would take place at all in 2020, said Dan Janowick, executive director of The Community House. But then, months passed and the realization set in that the fall would not bring a return to business as usual.

"I think that's when we started to hear over and over again the theme of people talking about mental health," Janowick said.

Organizers decided they didn't want to wait until next spring.

"This isn't the right year to skip it," he said. "We really do need to have it."

The 13th annual walk has been rescheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 25. The theme this year is "Start a conversation."

"I'd say the main message is that everyone should be thinking about their own mental wellness and what can they do for themselves and also what can they do to check in on family members," Janowick said. "Reminding people they are not alone is really important. It's important any time, but everything is magnified with the unknowns of COVID."

The uncertainty created by the pandemic, coupled with a change in daily routines, creates stress, said Bob Agnoli, director of mental health services at The Community House. The best thing to do is acknowledge that and talk about it, he advised.

"It's easy to minimize it, and it's good that we can count our blessings and say, 'I have a place to live' or 'My job is OK,' " he said. "It doesn't negate the fact that we are under a tremendous amount of stress and the people around us are under a tremendous amount of stress."

Feelings of anxiety and helplessness are common among many clients served by The Counseling Center at The Community House, Agnoli related. Counselors have been able to resume in-person meetings with about 70 percent of clients, with another 30 percent continuing with Zoom or telehealth sessions. Acknowledging those feelings and finding strategies to cope with them is important.

"We can't live in isolation. We need others to connect with as a healthy way of managing the stress levels," Agnoli said.

The walk is not only an opportunity to start a conversation but a chance to financially support the work of The Counseling Center.

"All funds will be used to provide access to people who don't have insurance or don't have enough insurance to get mental health services at The Community House," Janowick said. "Seven out of every 10 clients we see is seeing us on a sliding scale."

Walk co-chair Jennifer Lawrence (working with Sarah Charles) knows the importance of having access to mental health professionals firsthand. Her son attempted suicide a little more than two years ago, the day after he completed seventh grade. And she knows her family is not alone.

"Everyone knows someone who is struggling through mental illness or depression or who has committed or thought about committing suicide," she said. "Everyone is affected in one way or another.

"It is so important to have the money come in to support these kids, to support these families that need us in our community," she added. "This is so important to me and my family. I don't want any family to go through what we went through."

How wonderful it would be, she said, if Hinsdale Central students who couldn't get in to see their counselors or needed more support could just walk over to The Community House and get the help they need.

"That is my goal," she said. "That would be amazing, just to have counselors available if you don't have the money or you can't talk to your family."

Registration for the walk is open at https://thecommunityhouse.org/walkthewalk2020/.

Participants can register and walk a 5K in their own safe and socially distant way before Oct. 25. They also are encouraged to support merchants in the central business district that weekend and visit The Community House's table for giveaways and some socially distant camaraderie.

"The fact that we as a community can still maintain that connectedness with each other is really important," Agnoli said.

Registration is $35. Walkers can sign up as individuals or fundraise as a team.