WEST DES MOINES - They're numbers that are staggering, to say the least.
One out of five people in Iowa are affected by some form of mental illness. But Saturday’s walk was a celebration of how one group has been battling to beat the stereotypes.
"In the 10 years that this walk has been going on, the stigma of mental illness has decreased significantly,” said Peggy Huppert, the executive director for NAMI Iowa.
It's a simple 5K, a loop around the lake, but the message for nearly 500 Iowans, is a bit more complicated.
"It's important for me as a former law enforcement officer and law enforcement instructor to help raise awareness and help raise the education level of everyone with mental illness,” said Craig Matzke, NAMI Iowa President.
"It takes a while because you get conditioned by what you see in the media, what people say about people with mental illness,” said Teresa Bomhoff, the local president for NAMI of the Greater Des Moines area.
As a nonprofit, NAMI relies solely on fundraising, and Saturday's walk helped bring in more than $100,000.
"We plan on doing a lot with very little,” said Matzke. “Even though $100,000 is a lot of money. We spread that as far as we can."
Each step along the waterfront helps bring new life to support groups, and peer to peer mentoring services.
Teresa Bomhoff got involved more than a decade ago with NAMI, as she looked for ways to help her children in their fights with mental illness.
"There wasn't anybody to talk to, there wasn't anybody who told me how to navigate the system, and I felt very, very isolated,” said Bomhoff.
Now, the programs allow for those with mental illness to get the help they need. Everyone here is walking for someone, whether it's their friends, their family, or their coworkers.
And because it's reaching so far, that stigma that's been attached to these folks at the hip, is now generating positive feedback within the community.
"It's so heartening to know that somebody's got your back, and that you can provide support and you can be a safety net for somebody else,” said Bomhoff.
More than 65 different groups participated in the 5k. The day also featured keynote speakers, like Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy, as well as NAMI volunteers.
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