Avid hiker, founder for mental health group plans walk from Friendswood to Austin

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TOM KENNEDY

TOM KENNEDY

By KAROLYN GEPHART

Tom Kennedy is hiking from Friendswood to Austin at the end of January and all he needs are more postcards for his trip.

Kennedy is one of the three founders of Hike for Mental Health. His hike to Austin is to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness.

This is his first politically-based hike and he is doing this for an awareness issue.

“I am doing this to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. I am asking all of you, to ask all of your friends and family. to send me a post card that says eliminate the stigma of mental illness. I am hoping to get thousands of card. and I will deliver them to the Governor’s office. I am hoping to get postcards from all over the world. but especially ones from Texas,” Kennedy said.

He wants to use the postcards to encourage legislators to make the first Wednesday of the month to be ‘Eliminate the Stigma Day’.

“More people take their lives on Wednesday than any other day of the week,” Kennedy said. “We need to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and train people how to deal with those who have a mental illness. I remember growing up that there was once a stigma about breast cancer. Now that stigma is gone. That is what needs to happen with mental illness.”

Studies have been done proving the mental health benefits that can come from nature. Kennedy and his two founding partners of Hike for Mental Health (HFMH) were avid hikers and founded HFMH as an organization dedicated to raising money for research while promoting the healthy mental benefits from being out in nature. HFMH was founded in 2011.

Kennedy met his co-founders Leo Walker and Nancy Kozanecki in New Jersey and they all agreed on the same concept: they hike for mental health.

Since then, many hikes across the nation and outside of it have been coordinated with HFMH. Hikers get sponsorships before their hikes. The money raised for HFMH is used in two different areas.

“Out of the sponsorship money, 80 percent of what we raise from our hikes goes to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Every penny they receive goes to grants for scientists doing breakthrough research into the causes and treatments for brain and behavior disorders,” Kennedy said. “The remaining 20 percent of funds are evenly split between the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to support their work of preserving our long-distance wilderness trails.”

The 300 mile walk to Austin is different in that Kennedy is delivering a message and not collecting sponsorships but instead, postcards.

“Send me a post card that says ‘Let’s eliminate the stigma of mental illness.’ You can send it to Tom Kennedy C/O HIKE for Mental Health, 207 West Heritage Drive, Friendswood, Texas 77546. Please share this post and ask everyone to send me a postcard,” Kennedy said.

“Remember the scene in Miracle on 34th Street where they brought in all the mail to Santa Claus? That’s what I am hoping. I want to bring in a huge amount of postcards to show legislators it is time to remove the stigma on mental health,” Kennedy said.

So far, Kennedy has received approximately 500 postcards.

To learn more about HFMH, visit hikeformentalhealth.org, and/or follow their Facebook page for updates and information on how one can support or become involved.