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When it comes to mental health, Julio Florez plans to walk the walk - and hopes to inspire others to talk the talk. On February 4th, Florez will take to the Birchwood Trails and walk for 12 consecutive hours, from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. The walkathon will start and finish at Doug Barnes Cabin.

February 4th marks what would have been his late son Ben’s 25th birthday. The walkathon will not only seek to raise funds for mental health programming in our region, but also to stimulate conversations about
mental health and celebrate the life of Ben Florez.

“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,” said Julio Florez in a release. “In addition
to the 12-hour walk through the Birchwood trails, I want to help normalize the conversation about mental health, how it affects us all and the importance of seeking professional help.”

The statistics on mental health are staggering. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association Wood Buffalo, 70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence. Furthermore, young people ages 15 – 24 are more likely to experience mental health and/or substance use disorders than any other age group. The funds raised during Florez’ walkathon will go towards addressing this in our region, with CMHA and Some Other Solutions each receiving half of the proceeds.

“It is because of professional guidance and physical activity that I have been better able to deal with my own grief and challenges,” said Florez. “Please join me on the journey to raise awareness and support mental wellness in our communities.”

CMHA Community Relations Manager Emma Jones has expressed her enthusiastic support of Florez. “Our region needs to encourage more youth to feel comfortable to reach out for support, but stigma
remains a barrier,” said Jones. “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.”

Support Florez on his journey by following his steps on facebook , joining him and walking on February 4th, or starting conversations about mental illness. Donations can be made to his cause here. So far, Florez
has raised over $2000.00 for mental health resources in our region.


Emma Carter is a Fine Arts student at the University of Victoria, majoring in Writing and Theatre. She was born and raised in Fort McMurray, but considers the west coast to be a second home. Emma is grateful to the community of Fort McMurray for igniting her passion for the arts, and is grateful to be able to share her work in the place she calls home.