Board Member Walks 1,000 Kilometres In 40 Days To Fundraise For Waypoint

Waypoint board member Steve Parry
Steve Parry, vice-chair for the Board of Directors at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health. Photo courtesy of Steve Parry

Waypoint board member Steve Parry is heading to France and Spain next month to walk 1,000 kilometres in 40 days as part of a historic pilgrimage turned fundraiser.

Parry, a Tiny Township resident and vice-chair for the Board of Directors at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health, has an ongoing commitment to non-profit work. He founded Save Our North, which advocated for Ontario’s mining communities, and served as the chair of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) from 2012 to 2016. His work with the NAPF contributed to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.  With Waypoint’s reputation as a leading mental health hospital and research centre, Parry jumped at the opportunity to join the board in 2020, and it coincided with another change in his life.

“I had a heart problem about four years ago, my doctor said I should walk more, and I did,” Parry said. “I got my gold star from my doctor but what really I noticed was just that my mental health improved every time I went out and did this. Here I was joining the board of a mental health hospital and finding this connection to walking at exactly the same time.”

His newfound love for walking led him to discover the Camino de Santiago, a network of pilgrimages leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, but people have been walking the trails since as early as the 9th century. Roughly 442,000 people walked the route in 2023, breaking the attendance record. 

Some people walk the trails for religious reasons, but many use the walk as a way to decompress and discover. Parry saw many parallels between his experience with walking and the benefits of the Camino, so he decided to take the trip and make it a fundraiser for Waypoint, aiming to raise $5,000. 

He found that the idea resonated with so many people he spoke to that he wanted to share the experience. He’ll be carrying handmade bead toggles to give out to some of his donors as well as several stones. It’s a longstanding tradition to leave rocks in memory of a person or event at Cruz de Ferro about 500 kilometres into the trip so Parry will be bringing along stones in honour of his supporters’ loved ones.

“My thinking was if there’s a way where people who can’t afford to go over and walk a thousand kilometres or don’t have the ability to do that could be part of this and we can start thinking about walking for mental health more broadly, that’s a great combination and something I’m more than happy to do,” Parry said.

To that end, he’s putting out a daily blog with the help of his daughter Shannon. Every day he’ll film his trek on the Camino and send the raw footage home where Shannon will edit it together and share it online. 

Parry said he’ll be showcasing some great history and beautiful scenery while trying to convey what it means to walk the Camino. He wants to make sure people feel connected to his journey, so he and Shannon will be collecting questions through Facebook and the fundraising page for him to answer on whatever mountaintop or scenic vista he’s at that day.

After telling his family and friends about his plan, one of his college roommates decided to join him on the trek, but most of the people Parry will be walking alongside will be strangers, which is part of the charm. Witnessing the language and culture of their fellow travellers is as much part of the experience as the walk itself, he said.

During the Camino, participants often stay in albergues, also known as pilgrim hostels, which are simple shared accommodations that close around 8 a.m. Many people wear the same clothes every day, Parry said, and they walk rain or shine, so it can be quite the transformational experience for people. 

Parry will depart for his trip on March 10 and return May 18, giving him 40 days to complete the 1,000-kilometre journey as well as some time to process the experience.

“Waypoint uses the phrase ‘Waypoint without walls,’ this idea that it’s becoming more and more involved and integrated into the community,” he said. “I just see this, as a board member, as an extension of that approach that Waypoint is taking, so this was, to me, emblematic of what we’re all trying to do in terms of being part of the community.”

It’s remarkable to have an organization like Waypoint in a small Ontario community, Parry said, so he’s proud to fundraise on their behalf. He feels good about the likelihood of meeting his fundraising goal since the total is already nearing halfway weeks before his trek begins.

He hopes that people will follow along and contribute questions and comments, but more than anything, he wants to start a conversation about walking and mental health. Once he’s back from his trip, he plans to start organizing group walks in the Midland-Penetanguishene area to share stories about the Camino and inspire others to get walking.

“Ideally, what I’m really hoping is that others find this interesting and this becomes an annual event and perhaps even others decide to do it too,” he said. “I’d love to see this become a bit of a snowball going forward.”

To wish Steve Parry a “Buen Camino” and see updates on his trip, visit the Walking for Mental Health Facebook page. Visit Parry’s page on CanadaHelps to make a donation.


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