Spirits were high despite the dismal weather as hundreds of Mercer County NAMIWalkers turned out to
walk in the rain
at our May 5
event. With team and walker registrations up an astonishing 30% over last year’s record-breaking event, NAMIWalks Mercer County 2019 was projected to have 1,200 people in attendance and is on still on track to be our highest grossing fundraiser ever.
But… wow. There was a LOT of rain.
The weather we encountered is among any Walk Manager’s biggest concerns about holding a “Rain or Shine” event. A little drizzle is one thing… a steady drum-beat of rain for six hours is something very different; and it brought with it a set of unique challenges –
challenges I had never encountered in 15 years of walk event execution
. As the event manager, I am often viewing the event through a problem-solving lens. The weather presented so many that it was inhibiting my ability to see if
was going to plan.
- Our DJ arrived, determined he couldn’t risk his equipment in the elements and left, leaving us without a means to communicate to attendees until a replacement was secured.
- We had a river of mud form a trip hazard directly in front of the only access point to indoor bathrooms, as well as other areas of congregation.
- We had to severely compress a planned 90-minute program, with live performances, recognitions and warm ups, down to about twenty minutes due to complications surrounding the first DJ’s departure.
Throw into the mix the fact that there was lingering site construction occurring in Conant Hall, limiting our ability to use the indoors to simplify our event execution, the answers were just not readily available to me. I was at a loss.
As the mud crept into my rainboots and up my legs, my perspective was narrowing.
As someone who has coped with anxiety and depression since adolescence, this feeling of constriction was nothing new to me.
As the mother of a son on the autism spectrum, I was also well-versed in feeling like the challenges were hitting me faster than I could handle. I didn’t like these feelings I was having.
To me, NAMIWalks represents wellness over illness, community over isolation, and inclusion over stigma
. That the event was triggering the dark parts of my lived-experience – as both a peer and a family caregiver – was extremely discordant with my prior experiences with this event that I love.
I wasn’t walking in the rain. I was getting wet, and I was aware of the difference.
I want to offer my thanks to all who showed understanding, compassion, humor and grace in the face of a really *different* sort of NAMIWalks event.
In the days that followed, so many people reached out to say that the event, while challenging, was full of good spirit. Laughs were shared, hugs were exchanged, community gathered with an air of hope and acceptance. While my perspective had narrowed,
pictures of the event came my way
Images that showed engagement, hope and fellowship; messages written on mission banners, and “beads of hope” worn in solidarity.
Images I cherish now and I couldn’t have possibly absorbed in the middle of the challenges the committee and I were facing that day.
realized, this is the heart of what we do at NAMI.
WE SHOW UP. WE SUPPORT. WE DON'T GET WET - WE WALK IN THE RAIN
. Problems were solved, creatively and with compassion. A new DJ was found. A bridge was built over the mud. Kids were smiling. So were the adults.
Somebody brought a duck
! So while I hope to never manage another event fraught with so many issues beyond my control, I realized that this
NAMIWalks was so symbolic of what peers and families often face in their battles with mental illness: storms, deluge, frustration, constriction and loss. NAMI provides help, hope and support to those who have none.
I found my peace and perspective with the mess and put the lessons from this event in my back pocket for next year.
I think we will all remember NAMIWalks Mercer County 2019, for what it was, a muddy, messy success.
On behalf of NAMI Mercer, Thank You...
TO `OUR TEAM CAPTAINS AND WALKERS
: Your activity leading up to Walk Day is the life blood of NAMIWalks. Your hard work, your advocacy and storytelling in the weeks leading up to the event is a source of celebration and inspiration. I am very proud of what you accomplished, together!
TO OUR SET UP, DAY OF EVENT AND BREAK DOWN VOLUNTEERS
: Especially Zero Gravity 2180 for staying to the bitter, muddy end to take down tents, tables and chairs. Big thanks as well as the dozens of people who helped with food, registration and the wellness fair. Big thanks to the folks at MARCo, the New Jersey Renaissance Festival and the Franklin Township Youth Council for bringing entertainment for our patrons.
TO OUR SPONSORS AND VENDORS
: Your support and information services are a vital part of NAMIWalks. Without you, we simply cannot put on an event of this size; and our vendors endured the same horrific weather to provide information and hope to our attendees.
To Capital Health and the Mercer County Sherriff’s Department
for providing first responders for the event. I’m grateful for your presence and even more grateful we didn’t need you!
To ETS, its facilities staff and Kitara Washington
for providing an amazing venue and support to hold another successful, though terribly muddy, event.
To the Mercer County government for partnering with NAMI Mercer on the Stigma Free Mercer Campaign, and to the Mercer County Mayors who lent their support as honorary chairs and team captains.
o my colleague, Danita Saunders-Davis
, who ran registration AND pulled a replacement DJ out of her back pocket.
We LOVE DJ DROP
. He’s our new best friend!
To entertainers Rider Dance Troupe, Amanda Conti, Myesha Price and Jim Gaven, as well as the Golds Gym leaders.
Thank you for your willingness to share your talents and for the flexibility and grace for accepting cuts to your performance times, or opting to bow out to try to keep us on schedule.
To my first-year Walk Co- Chair, Jerilyn Angotti
– This was baptism by deluge. You were an absolute champion.
And to outgoing Walk Chair, Dan Schuberth
: I’ve enjoyed working with you for the past five years and growing this event. Thank you for your leadership.
To NAMIMan and NAMIShark
: Mad props for showing up in that mess in your outfits!
To Joe, Alex and Ben:
When I took this job, I know you didn’t bank on being event volunteers year after year, but I couldn’t do it without you. Thank you for putting up with it all. And nobody could have built a bridge out of construction scrap to span the mud river better than Scouts.
And finally, to the NAMIWalks Mercer County Committee and Interns
: Dan, Jerilyn, Janet, Danita, Rob, Bob, Maddy, Jane, Stephanee, Cathy, Jeremy, Karis and Pierre: To us, NAMIWalks is more than just a day: it is two pre-events and months of planning, calling, meeting, and action in between. Walk day is the culmination of a lot of work, planning and passion. Many hands make light work and I appreciate your efforts to make NAMIWalks a successful and inclusive community event for everyone.
NAMIWalks Mercer County Manager