Walk for Wellness comes home

After pandemic disruptions the yearly benefit is back on course

When Gina Angeletti's dad was battling prostate cancer, her whole family discovered a vital source of support and comfort in Wellness House.

Now six years after his passing, Angeletti is helping advance the Hinsdale organization's mission as co-chair of the annual Walk for Wellness fundraiser on Sunday, May 1.

"It changed his outlook on the end of his life and truly helped my mom move on afterward," Angeletti said, stressing the aim is to raise both resources for and awareness of Wellness House's programs and services. "So many people are not aware of the impact that a positive lifestyle - mental, physical and spiritual - can have during a person's flight with cancer and be meaningful for their families."

The event features a 3K walk/fun run and a 5K chip-timed run and will kick off with an opening program at 8 a.m. at the agency's 131 N. County Line Road location followed by the walk at 8:30 a.m. People can register as an individual or with a team.

Molly Haunty, serving as co-chair alongside Angeletti, said the event brings out people of all ages and stages, noting her three kids are participating.

"People come out with the dogs and baby strollers, and groups come out with themes," Haunty said. "It's a really great uplifting event for a topic that can at times be not so uplifting."

Wellness House Executive Director Lisa Kolavennu said this year's walk has its own theme: Welcome Home.

"There will be opportunities for people to see more of Wellness House and tour the campus," she said, noting that has not been possible since 2019 due to the pandemic. "There's excitement that we're returning to what we know, and I think that feels like this idea of being welcomed home. Its almost a feeling of a reunion to see people that we haven't seen in a while."

Organizers did find ways to navigate COVID-19 the last two years by enabling people to walk or run individually at a personalized time and location while still raising funds for the greater cause. That accommodation has been continued with the "Walk Your Way" dimension, recognizing that some people may have reasons for preferring to join in remotely.

"Walk Your Way allows people, whether they are affected by the pandemic or auto-immune challenged or mobility-challenged, to be able to still participate," Angeletti said.

And with Wellness House's online reach well beyond Chicago's suburbs, supporters might live far away.

"We really are emphasizing to come be a part of this community even if you live in different state or if it's easier to just walk your own way," Haunty said. "Walk Your Way really allows for that community and those who are impacted by cancer to enjoy the ease and comfort of participating virtually.

"You choosing your method of involvement is empowering," she added.

Everyone receives a long-sleeve dri-fit T-shirt, and special incentives are available for those who individually raise $100 or more. Event volunteers are still needed for tasks like sorting the T-shirts and manning posts along the walk route.

Organizers said the Wellness House's Teen Council has been integral in leveraging social media to promote the walk and in other ways, such as delivering signs around the community and enlisting their peers to be part of the effort.

"It's great to have the perspective of young people, and teenagers in particular, and see them get excited about supporting Wellness House," Kolavennu said. "What's great about having the council involved is they can think intentionally about how to engage the younger generation to sign up."

Kolavennu said the walk arrives at a favorable spot on the calendar.

"It's a time of year when everyone's excited to get outdoors," she said. "It's a mission and a cause that people recognize the value of and want to support. All of those factors together make it a great time and great opportunity for the community to come together."

Angeletti said proceeds reached more than half a million dollars even with in-person restrictions during the pandemic. She hopes people will feel even more generous this year.

"Our fundraising goal is to break $600,000," said Angeletti, who will be participating with her husband, three kids and 80-year old mother.

She said having thousands of people turn out in solidarity is a powerful testament to the impact of Wellness House.

"They're all coming together for their own loved ones and memories. The energy of that day reflects the goal and purpose of what's inside (Wellness House)," she said.

What does Angeletti expect to feel at the event?

"I think i will be feeling gratefulness, appreciation and hope," she said.

The cost to register is $30 per person for the walk/fun run, $35 for chipped-timed 5K run. Visit https://events.wellnesshouse.org.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean