Arise & Shine Hosts Weekly Community Walks to Support Mental Health in Calgary

The group walks provide a safe place where people can be active, build community connections and, if they want, share their mental health journey without judgement.

Having walked their own journey in mental health, Reynaldo Glombowski and Alison McKenny set their sights on creating a non-profit, Arise & Shine, to enable this walk (literally and figuratively) for others. Arise & Shine supports mental health journeys by creating a safe and positive walking community in Calgary. Here, Glombowski and McKenny share how anyone dealing with a mental health concern can join the walks and feel supported without judgement.

 

What is Arise & Shine?

Reynaldo: “We are all about bringing people together on weekly walks in Calgary on Sunday afternoons, and about creating a safe, inclusive, supportive and dynamic group for anybody to join. We started in April 2018. We’ve since expanded to Lethbridge and Edmonton. We foster mental health for people who come, and also create a dialogue around mental health in Calgary and abroad to all the communities across Canada.

“[We are here for] anybody who wants to meet new people or is dealing with some things and needing a person to talk to. We have great, big hearts. We welcome anybody with open arms. We’re very empathetic and we love supporting people, whatever stage they’re at, while also making it possible for people to share as much as they would like, or as little as they’d like. We are not mental health professionals. We always refer somebody who has an issue to somebody who’s qualified. But we’re there to create that community and safe space. That’s certainly what anybody [who has joined us] has also told us as one of the great things about the group.”

 

What inspired you to start Arise & Shine?

Reynaldo: “The inspiration for this came from some struggles that I had myself growing up with mental health, mainly in the area of depression. It was very isolating and a very difficult time because I thought I was alone. I wasn’t moving around a lot. I didn’t go outside a whole lot. I was really missing all those things that I now know really make up good mental health. My connection to that eventually came from starting triathlon training, running, and joining some fitness groups – that’s where I met Alison.

“Over time [I learned] it’s that combination of being outdoors, being in nature with other people, in a positive state and happy environment that really makes a huge difference. After I got over some of those things and got into a really good space, I wanted to create an organization that creates that spot, not just for myself but for other people — making it accessible.

“Now the question was, how to do that? Because not everybody might, you know, start a triathlon training program. I thought walking because Calgary has got so many nice parks. That’s where the idea of Arise & Shine really came from — it’s that walking group with an easy pace with a group of people where anybody can talk about anything and we’re in nature. It’s just an amazing experience overall.”

Alison: “Reynaldo came up with the idea and I was all for the idea because I too am very passionate about mental health. I also struggled with some mental health challenges a little over a decade ago, and it wasn’t necessarily through fitness that I got over that. But it was really through changing my community, getting a different association and a newfound purpose in life, staying active and being around people. I hope that through this walk, we’re able to bring people together, uplift them and make their day slightly better. Not everyone is able to overcome their mental health challenges. But I’m a firm believer that at least there’s a way to try and get a little bit of improvement in your day.”

 

It takes courage to admit mental health issues. Can you share more about how you’re able to destigmatize that for your community in Arise & Shine?

Reynaldo: “This stigma is something that I alluded to in my story. I felt very ashamed of it. It was something that I didn’t even tell my closest friends. My parents knew about this, but nobody else. The biggest thing is just creating that safe space. We do that by going first, sharing our own stories, our own reason for why we do this at the beginning of each walk. For me, sharing that story with a confidant in my life made the biggest difference to me at that moment. By creating an atmosphere where it’s confidential, everybody agrees that whatever we say in the walk does not leave the walk. Then we leave it up to the individual to say, ‘Yeah, I want to share a bit more about my story and what’s brought me here,’ or ‘No, I’d rather not.’ And either one of them is okay.”

 

What has been the impact you’ve seen Arise & Shine have for others in the community?

Reynaldo: “It’s sometimes subtle and it’s sometimes big. It can be as simple as a conversation that we have during the walk with somebody where they share in intimate detail what they’ve never shared with anybody before. You can just feel the weight lifting off their chest and being lighter for that, and freer. Sometimes it’s as simple as just being out in nature and taking a picture of a deer or a nice flower. For others, it’s just being a part of the community. They’re in a space where they’re very lonely or very isolated, or they feel different or ashamed in some way. We’re creating that space where they know that we’re there, we’re not going to judge them. So that’s sort of the impact that we have on the walk.”

 

How do you think COVID-19 has impacted Arise & Shine and mental health outcomes so far?

Alison: “We did host a daily Zoom call when COVID-19 had just first started. Everyone was so unsure whether it’s even possible to interact with anyone outside their close family unit. We actually found a lot of success by having new people that we’ve never even met before, that may not even be in Calgary, Edmonton, or Lethbridge, come to those Zoom calls and connect with us, which was really cool because they were open to everyone in the world.

“COVID-19 has definitely had a huge effect on everyone’s mental health. There have been job losses and economic uncertainty. There’s a lot of fear whether we will get this, or if one of our loved ones will, and what will happen to them if they do. Because of COVID-19, we’ve often been isolated to our residences, and not able to get out and interact with people that we normally would. Numerous examples have shown that it’s a great idea to continue getting regular sleep, having a very healthy diet, setting up Zoom calls with friends and family, and coming out to a walk if at all possible, just so that you still maintain that interaction with other human beings who care and are willing to support you.”

 

How do people get involved? 

Alison: “We have an Instagram account, a Meetup account, a website, as well as a Facebook account. Every Sunday at 3:30pm, we host a walk and we announce the location about a week in advance. It’s usually a park or beautiful place within Calgary. In the winter when it’s super cold, we meet so we can walk in the Plus 15 and still continue that. We would love it if everyone comes down and just gets involved, tries out a walk. We’re taking COVID-19 precautions very seriously by enforcing masks and social distancing measures so we’re as safe as possible and we’re not adding to the spread.”

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