Hike raises awareness of mental illness
Julie Robbins struggled with depression for years before taking her own life in 2002. This Sunday marks the seventh “Julie’s Hike for Help.”
November 7, 2012
MUSKOKA – For seven years hikers have been tying their shoelaces to remember Julie Robbins.
Marie-Louise Bechthold, executive director for the Meeting Place Centre for Growth and Healing, said this year marks the 10th anniversary of Robbins’ death.
Bechthold knew Robbins from a young age as her parents were family friends.
“She was a very special young woman,” said Bechthold. “When she felt well, she was just an amazing young woman.”
Bechthold spoke of the friendship between her daughter and Robbins. And she noted Robbins was incredibly involved in team sports at Gravenhurst High School until she graduated and was accepted to a university in southern Ontario.
But Robbins had struggled with depression for years and it was while at university that Robbins took her own life.
“After Thanksgiving weekend in 2002, she went back to school, called her parents and said goodbye to them,” said Bechthold.
Filled with alarm, Robbins’ parents rushed to her. They found their daughter on life support in the hospital.
“She died of an overdose because she suffered depression,” said Bechthold. “And when she went into periods of depression, she felt hopeless.”
Robbins was 21 years old.
In an effort to keep Robbins’ spirit alive and help others who suffer from mental illness, Bechthold worked with the family to create a memorial fund managed by the Meeting Place Centre for Growth and Healing in Robbins’ name. The result was the Julie Robbins Memorial Fund.
After the fund was established, Robbins’ mother organized the first annual Julie’s Hike for Help held at Hardy Lake Provincial Park to raise funds for those with mental health issues within Muskoka. The hike also raises awareness of mental illness as a treatable disease.
The hike is now in its seventh year and has become one of the memorial fund’s most important fundraisers with an average of about 80 people participating each year.
The hike has raised more than $34,800 since 2006 through donations and sponsorships from both those who participate in the hike and those who cannot hike but still want to help.
Funds go toward the Huntsville-headquartered Meeting Place Centre for Growth and Healing’s programs to provide financial and professional support for the healing of trauma survivors with limited financial resources across Muskoka. The charitable, non-profit organization also has satellite offices in Bracebridge and Gravenhurst.
“All the monies that go into Julie’s fund go directly back into service within the Muskokan community,” said Bechthold.
Bechthold said the family remains committed to the hike. Robbins’ father, for example, makes cookies every year for participants.
“He refuses to give out the recipe,” said Bechthold with a laugh. “Some people just come for the cookies.”
Hot chocolate will also be on hand.
And area artist Elke Scholz donates an interpretive painting of the lake each year.
Bookmarks featuring the painting are created and distributed to participants. This year’s painting is a winter scene.
Community members are encouraged to attend the hike and pets are welcome. Bechthold said a number of participants often bring their canine friends.
The route around Hardy Lake is about three kilometers in length, but Bechthold said participants can do as much or as little of the trail as they like.
She said the event is social and fun, but always focuses on mental illness awareness and Robbins’ memory.
“I think we have succeeded in keeping her spirit alive,” said Bechthold.
The 2012 Julie’s Hike for Help is set for Sunday, Nov. 11, at Hardy Lake Provincial Park off Highway 169 near Gravenhurst. There is a parking area for the hike just past Walker’s Point Road.
The event takes place rain or shine and starts at 2 p.m. Donations will be accepted before the start of the hike.
To register a hiking group or to make a charitable donation, call Elaine Robbins at 705-687-4354.
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