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'Birchwood for Ben' raises awareness for mental health

Last Updated Jan 28, 2020 at 1:55 pm MDT

PHOTO. Pictures of Ben Florez, whose father, Julio, started the 'Walking for Ben' walkathon in his memory and to raise funds for mental health resources in Wood Buffalo. The event starts on Feb. 4, 2020. Supplied by Canadian Mental Health Association Wood Buffalo.

EDIT: Canadian Mental Health Association Wood Buffalo announced they renamed the event ‘Birchwood for Ben’ from ‘Walking for Ben’.

Local resident Julio Florez will take a journey in support of mental health.

On Feb. 4, Florez will walk the Birchwood Trails starting and ending at Doug Barnes Cabin.

The date of the walkathon is a significant one for Florez, as it’s his son, Ben Florez’s 25th birthday.

Florez said ‘Birchwood For Ben’ will not only raise funds for mental health resources in Wood Buffalo.

He added the event will also celebrate Ben’s life.

“Like many of us, Ben would feel overwhelmed by some of life’s challenges and often found refuge being outdoors and surrounded by nature—as I often do too.”

Ben passed away in 2016.

He said the goal of the 12-hour walk is to normalize the conversation about mental health, adding it’s also important to seek professional help.

“It is because of professional guidance and physical activity that I have been better able to deal with my own grief and challenges.”

Florez said he hopes the walkathon would become an annual community staple.

Canadian Mental Health Association Wood Buffalo (CMHA) said 70 per cent of mental health problems take root in childhood or into adolescence.

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Youth aged 15-24 are more likely to experience mental health or substance use disorders than other age groups.

CMHA Community Relations Manager, Emma Jones said Wood Buffalo must encourage its youth to feel comfortable to ask for help.

“CMHA Wood Buffalo commends Julio for taking a tragic event to support other families facing similar journeys by raising awareness and funding for mental health programs. He is creating positive change in our community.”

Register to participate in ”Birchwood for Ben’ or donate to Julio Florez’s fundraising tab on the CMHA website.

Funds raised will support Canadian Mental Health Association Wood Buffalo and Some Other Solutions.

‘Birchwood for Ben’ starts at the Doug Barnes Cabin on Feb. 4, 2020, at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 7:00 p.m.