Fall is here! This is my favorite time of year to hike. I love seeing the leaves changing colors, feeling the crisp air, and the warmth of the sun on my face. It’s a magical time. Fall also signals to me that it’s time to gear up and get engaged in HIKE for Mental Health’s month-long campaign, #hikeOctober. This will be my third time participating in this campaign. While I was setting up my donation page it dawned on me that I didn’t know much about #hikeOctober’s origins. So, I reached out to Brayden Donnelly, Board Member of HFMH and co-creator of the #hikeOctober campaign to learn more.
Much like my own experience, Brayden came to HFMH through a simple internet search. At a time when he was struggling with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts Brayden was looking for something to help. He typed in “hiking for mental health” and that’s where his journey with this wonderful organization began. Growing up with a father who was actively involved in conservation and being around nature for most of his life, HFMH was a natural fit for Brayden.
In 2017 Brayden reached out to Leo Walker, co-founder & President of HFMH, about virtual hikes and possibly filming his own hikes to share with others as a way to provide access to nature for those who may not otherwise be able to engage except through virtual means. Leo brought his vision of having a virtual community of like-minded individuals into the discussion. He saw the need for a virtual community-based hike so that someone who lives in Alabama, Oregon, or New York could feel like they were part of a bigger community, the HFMH community. All over the US and even in other countries, people could come together in one large virtual event, walking and hiking miles towards a collective goal: raising funds for mental health research and trail conservation.
Why October? Why not some other month? There were a couple of reasons why October was specifically chosen. The hope was to inspire people to get out during the season when the weather’s nice- it’s not too hot or too cold. Unless you are hiking in higher elevation, there’s not a big concern for weather related issues like snow. Also contributing to making the campaign during the month of October was the number of mental health awareness days/ events that take place. For example, October 1 is the start of ADHD Awareness month. October also contains Mental Health Awareness Week, Bullying Prevention, Pregnancy & Infant Loss, National Depression & Mental Health Screening Month, World Mental Health Day (10/10) and National Coming Out Day (10/11). Also included in October is the anniversary of the National Trails System Act. So, it just seemed that October was a natural fit for a campaign like #hikeOctober.
The first two years of #hikeOctober the team was just trying to figure things out. By the time years 3 and 4 came along #hikeOctober started finding its groove and having consistent team members. Now, at year 5 the #hikeOctober team not only consists of Brayden and Leo, but also a powerhouse trio that includes Brielle Brack, Cristen Heavens, and Jasmine Massa, who create and share social media content specific to #hikeOctober. This year #hikeOctober is operating at full speed and Brayden only sees it growing stronger with each coming year.
When asked about the future of #hikeOctober Brayden says that HFMH & the #hikeOctober team will continue to focus on growing this campaign in an organic and quality way. “Quality is important to us, and we’ve learned there is so much more value in connecting with the people in our community on that small scale, through organic conversation compared to reaching out to the “big fish” with cold emails and calls.” Building connections with everyday individuals, being community-driven, and allowing the campaign to grow organically allows HFMH and the #hikeOctober campaign to create meaningful relationships with its participants. Additionally, Brayden would love to see the campaign grow not only in number of participants, but also in more miles hiked. This will allow for larger fundraising, which will go back into research and conservation, in a beautiful positive feedback loop.
Brayden’s personal missions include having participants from every US state and more international participants. In the past, there have been individuals from Europe and Asia participate in #hikeOctober and the highest concentration of American participants are from the NE & SW areas. He also wants to continue to build relationships with other national long distance scenic trail organizations. Currently, HFMH has relationships established with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and a connection with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition was established just this year (the hallowed Triple Crown, y’all!).
The wonderful thing about the #hikeOctober campaign is that anyone, anywhere, regardless of age, ability, or background can get involved! Brayden notes: “We… value a 1 mile walk in your backyard as much as we value a 100 mile hike. We aren’t selective about where those miles or people come from… we want as many people as possible from all backgrounds [participating].”
If this sounds like a community you’d like to be a part of, you can head over to the #hikeOctober page on the HFMH website to learn more or sign up to participate. Also, if you’re interested in volunteering, HFMH and #hikeOctober is looking for a social media savvy individual to build connections and start conversations on Twitter. If you’d like to learn more about this opportunity, please reach out to Brayden Donnelly at Brayden@hikeformentalhealth.org.
Now… go take a hike!