Be Kind walk to support mental health awareness

When Mozie van Raaij wrote "Be Kind" on a chalk board at her high school years ago in response to bullying messages that had previously been scribbled across the board, she hadn't anticipated the simple message would snowball.

The chalked "Be Kind" message soon led to T-shirts, speaking engagements, the formation of a non-profit organization, and a scholarship fund. And now, van Raaij is using the platform she's built to start a new event that will support mental health awareness right here in Clark County.

van Raaij faced her own mental health struggles back in high school and has chosen to be an advocate to support others facing similar challenges since then through her Be Kind organization. 

Her latest venture is the upcoming Walk to Break the Stigma event from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at the Clark County Fairgrounds Annex Building.

"My platform with Be Kind mainly focuses on anti-bullying and mental health awareness and how we can break the stigma around mental health," van Raaij says. "I decided to host this event to connect people with resources available around them. It will be fun and family-friendly so it's accessible to all."

The free event is open to the public to stop by throughout, but if you'd like to participate in the walk, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m., you can register online in advance.

Prior to the walk, attendees can participate in a Chalk the Walk competition by drawing or writing positive messages along the walk path. A winner will be chosen to win a prize, van Raaij says.

The walk itself will be a short path, she says. 

"It will be a slow, reflective walk because there are several people coming who have lost someone to suicide, so we want to have that reflective moment," she says, adding that there will also be donation bins along the walk path for people to support the Be Kind's mission moving forward.

Some of the mental health and youth resources that will be on-site at the event include Mental Health Services for Clark and Madison Counties, PATH Behavioral Healthcare, and Adriel - a local foster care agency that provides mental health support for kids in foster care, van Raaij says.

Additional fun at the free event and walk will include face painting, balloon animals, raffles, a DJ, and food trucks, including Christian Brothers Meat Company and Tommy's Double Barrel BBQ.

van Raaij says that when she started Be Kind four years ago, it was important but she always saw herself growing and making bigger plans. However, she says the pandemic slowed her a bit during the last couple years. 

"In January, I made the decision to kick it back into full swing, and it's been going great," she says, adding that the pandemic added even more mental health challenges for kids that they didn't face prior to 2020.

van Raaij says she hopes Be Kind and events like the walk help community members feel supported and heard and help to connect people with resources they may need.

"It's important to know mental illness doesn't go away. You learn how to cope with it, and it's a lifelong journey living with it," she says. "During tough times, it's important to be supported by family and friends.

"(If you're struggling), I would definitely just say reach out for help. There is no such thing as a perfect time or a perfect place. You have to reach out as soon as you notice something feels off-balance in your life. Even if you don't know where to start, that's OK. What matters is where you're going - the journey is what matters."

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.