Gisela Garrison, left, Jennifer Mattern, Rhory Mattern, Susie Coleman and Jenn Tonso walk at Centennial Mall, in Craig, on Thursday afternoon.

Photo by Michael Neary

Gisela Garrison, left, Jennifer Mattern, Rhory Mattern, Susie Coleman and Jenn Tonso walk at Centennial Mall, in Craig, on Thursday afternoon.

Walking group forges social bonds in Craig

Local group members received training to lead community-building strolls

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— Walking may be good physical exercise, but it’s also something a group of Craig residents are using to foster new personal connections.

“Every connection, every good conversation you have with somebody, increases your psychological well-being,” said Gisela Garrison, the director of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association’s Community Health Center. Garrison, Jennifer Mattern, Susie Coleman and Anita Reynolds are leading a walking group in Craig, after receiving training from the Denver-based cooperative, Walk2Connect.

Walk2Connect, according to the group’s website, works “to create whole-health walking programs focused on connection to others, to the places we live, and to ourselves.”

A few months ago, Mattern said, she attended the annual workshop of Colorado Heart Healthy Solutions — a program of Colorado Prevention Center Community Health. Jonathan Stalls spoke to people at the workshop about Walk2Connect, a partner of CPC Community Health, and Mattern liked what she heard. She brought back news of Walk2Connect, founded by Stalls, to colleagues at the Northwest Colorado VNA. Garrison, Coleman and Reynolds agreed to receive training from a Walk2Connect staff member and to start a walking project in Craig.

Mattern is a human resources generalist with the Northwest Colorado VNA, and she was a community health educator when she became involved with the walking project.

“I just felt that it was something that would benefit our communities,” Mattern said, noting the wide range of ages that can be involved. “It’s a great program that’s gotten a lot of people involved socially where it’s started.”

The four women are trained as “walking movement leaders,” and they’ve led walks for the past three weeks. The usual plan is to meet and walk at 4 p.m. on Thursdays outside the Loudy Simpson Ice Rink, but this past Thursday a frigid rain chased the group indoors to Centennial Mall. Walks range from about 45 minutes to an hour.

“I love to walk, and I love to meet people,” Coleman said. “It is exercise, but it’s really about the relationships you make.”

Coleman is the individualized service and support team coordinator for the Northwest Colorado VNA.

Garrison, too, stressed the wide-sweeping benefits of walking with people.

“It’s based on the evidence that it does not need to be physically strenuous to have the overall emotional, social and physical health benefits,” she said.

Organizers said between about three and nine people have come out for the first three walks. As attendance grows, they said, the groups may break up into different time slots, with a trained leader for each one.

Jenn Tonso, out for the Thursday walk, called herself a new “recruit.”

“If I go walking by myself, that’s kind of boring,” Tonso said. “So I saw this and thought I would try it.”

Walk2Connect gatherings across the state are publicized on meetup.com, allowing people just passing through an area — as Garrison noted — to find out about a walk and join in. The organizers stressed that the walks are for people of all ages, and Mattern noted plans down the road to develop walking groups beyond Craig.

People interested in more information on the free group can call Garrison at 224-627-2747. They can also find information at http://www.meetup.com/yampavalleysolemates/.

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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