The Stark County affiliate of National Alliance on Mental Illness held its annual fund-raising walk at Hoover Park in North Canton.

NORTH CANTON  While spending about an hour Sunday afternoon being a proponent for mental-health services and awareness, Beth Zabinski also immersed herself in the wonders of nature.

"I do enjoy walks in nature," Zabinski said after participating in the annual Moving Forward for Mental Health Walk at Hoover Park. "I heard crickets chirping, leaves falling. I saw bees collecting pollen before winter hibernation."

A Jackson Township resident, Zabinski was among the participants in the walk that is a fund-raising project put on by the Stark County affiliate of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Money generated comes from pledges of the walkers and donations. Participants marched on the Hoover Trail Connector Park.

"We had about 325 registered," said Kay Raga, executive director of the local NAMI of the number of participants. "We used to participate in Summit County's walk. Then we broke off. We broke away because we wanted to increase our fundraising in Stark County."

Many of the participants wore the teal green T-shirts with lettering proclaiming participation in the Moving Forward for Mental Health Walk. NAMI is a national grassroots group that advocates for people and families coping with mental health issues.

Money generated from the walking event "goes to programs in Stark County," Raga said. "We have free education programs, we have support groups, we have advocacy. This is as much about fundraising as it is an awareness walk."

Various businesses, agencies, universities and a labor organization helped sponsor the event.

What NAMI officials hope the public takes from the event is to "not be afraid of someone with mental illness," said Missy Reed, a member of local NAMI board. "The biggest thing is we want to inform the public and inform those with mental illness. To be honest it is no different than someone with diabetes or a heart condition."

The important thing, according to Reed, is maintaining medication and working with mental-health professionals.

After the walk, awards were presented to the team that had the most participants, the top fund-raising team and the individual who brought in the most revenue. It was a clean sweep for Coleman Professional Services that came out on top in all three award categories. Michelle Allison-Smith, director of behavioral health for the local Coleman Professional Services, was the top fund-raising individual.

"As a whole, I think the team raised about $1,300," Allison-Smith said. "I think out of that $1,300, I collected about $300. We started in January. NAMI does great for the clients that we serve; the clients and their families."

Coleman Professional Services is based in Portage County, but has offices in Stark County offering mental-health services.

Reach Malcolm at 330-580-8305


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