Color Walk to brighten mental health conversation

Walk a mile in my shoes.

This phrase from days gone by encourages the practice of empathy. It fosters an understanding, awareness and sensitivity to others in need. It offers a place to start a conversation and begin to develop empathy.

The Community House is kick starting its conversation on mental health with the nonprofit's 15th annual Walk the Walk fundraising event on Sunday, May 15.

"A simple 1-mile walk outdoors benefits your mental health, but can also start a conversation on and understanding of mental illness," said Dan Janowick, executive director of The Community House. "In what takes 20 minutes, we hope families will start to go on weekly walks to check in with each other."

Now in its 15th year, the walk has transformed to focus on the changing needs of the community.

For the past three years, the focus has centered entirely on raising awareness of the mental health programs and services that The Community House offers, especially to children and young adults. According to Janowick, seven out of 10 clients enrolled in one-on-one or group therapy at the privately-funded 81-year-old red brick mainstay in Hinsdale are under the age of 23. Of this group, many are direct referrals from Hinsdale Township High School District 86 and Community Consolidated Elementary District 180.

This increased need for mental health services, Janowick believes, is related directly to COVID-19. The quarantine and remote learning impacted the normal progression of schooling. Janowick added that experts believe the educational impact of the pandemic will continue to play out amongst this demographic.

"We are seeing that first- and second-grade-boys are needing help focusing on impulse control, since this group missed out on the last year of preschool," said Janowick. "The same thing applies to high school juniors and seniors. They did not receive a normal introduction to high school. These are formative years."

More than 500 people are expected to attend this year's Walk the Walk for Mental Health. Funds raised will help ensure that The Community House can continue to offer mental health programs and services in Hinsdale and at its Willowbrook Corner location to those without insurance or those who need help covering after-insurance costs.

For event chair Sarah Charles, who is a Hinsdale mother of two and licensed clinical social worker, this year's color walk theme will help to dispel the dark cloud myth surrounding mental illness.

"This year's color walk is a celebration," Charles said. "By throwing colorful powder in the air, it not only makes it fun for attendees, but it lightens the mood. A conversation on mental health doesn't have to be gloomy. People are afraid to talk about it, and I want it to be normalized just like taking care of our physical health." The walk will begin and end at The Community House, with a colorful opening ceremony to commence the walk, and several color celebration stations, which will spray colorful non-toxic chalk powder along the route. The event will end with food trucks, music and more.

To register for the event, which beings at 8:30 a.m., please visit Registration is $30 for adults and $20 for students.

- Alexis Braden of Hinsdale is the paper's society columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].