SARAH HOFIUS HALL / STAFF PHOTOVanessa White Fernandes of Scranton, left, gives Terrie Barrasse of Dunmore a “free hug” during the NAMI Scranton and Northeast Region Walk for Mental Health Awareness on Saturday at Nay Aug Park.
Lucy, a 2-year-old pit bull, looks for a drink while being walked by Tracy Jayne of Taylor during the NAMI Scranton and Northeast Region Walk for Mental Health Awareness on Saturday at Nay Aug Park. SARAH HOFIUS HALLSTAFF PHOTO
Vanessa White Fernandes offered a hug to anyone who wanted one Saturday.
During the annual Walk for Mental Health Awareness at Nay Aug Park, dozens of people embraced Fernandes and her idea.
“I think it’s really important to understand how connected we are as humans,” said the Scranton resident, who wore a “free hugs” sign around her neck. “It creates that vulnerability so we understand we all share the same struggles.”
Organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, Scranton and Northeast Region, the 20th annual walk served as a way to bring people together for support, information and friendship. Health care providers, families and advocates said the walk is invaluable.
“There is help out there,” said Marie Onukiavage, executive director of the regional NAMI. “Hope exists. It’s OK to talk about mental health.”
About 200 people made their way around Nay Aug Park, led by a group carrying a banner that read “Walk the walk for lives touched by mental illness.” After the mile-long walk, participants enjoyed lunch under a large tent.
Tim Maloney of Pringle handed out tulips as a random act of kindness.
“I just wanted to spread some positivity,” he said.
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