For two long years Haley George’s life was overshadowed by depression and anxiety. She felt “out of touch with reality,” dropped out of sports, and stopped seeing friends.

Her isolation, she says, was a means to hide her feelings from the people around her – not an easy feat in a small community of roughly 150 people where everybody knows your name.

“I grew up in Climax, Saskatchewan. It’s a very small community. We’re tight-knit, which is great, but in some ways that also made it hard for me to talk about my struggles. I knew if I tell one person, everyone is going to know about it in no time,” she says.

“I also just thought it was embarrassing and kept asking myself ‘Why is this happening to me?’ Looking back, I wish I had felt like it’s okay to look for help.”

The main lesson learned from her own experience, she says, is how difficult, yet important, it is too talk openly about mental illness.

“It’s sad to think how many lives could have been saved, just by starting a conversation.”

She pauses for a moment and adds, “I dream of a community, or a Canada, or even the whole world, where mental illness is on the same level as being physically sick.”

Inspiration for Haley’s Fundraiser: A Big Smile and a Ride Across Canada

To get one step closer to making her dream come true, Haley decided to come alongside her childhood hero, six-time Olympian Clara Hughes.

With her famous signature smile and athletic achievements, Clara has won the hearts of many Canadians over the years — Haley’s included.

“I remember watching her on TV and rooting for her. She’s just really inspiring. There is just something different about her, and what she’s doing for mental health right now is so… thoughtful.”

Clara recently embarked on a bike tour across Canada to raise awareness for mental health and to share the story of her struggle with depression.

Impressed by Clara’s initiative, Haley decided to get active for mental health as well. She set up her own Chimp Giving Group and started raising money for her local Canadian Mental Health Association branch.

$300 In Less Than A Day

“I went into it trying not to get my hopes up. I thought maybe I would raise a couple of dollars and that’s going to be great.”

Haley set herself a fundraising goal of $300 — which she surpassed in less than 24 hours. To date, she has raised a whopping $1,280 with two more weeks to go.

“I couldn’t believe how generous and supportive people turned out to be. I’m still absolutely dumbstruck,” she says.

To get the word out about her fundraiser, she posted updates on Facebook and plastered her home town with posters.

“I personally can’t reach the whole country, but it’s like a ripple effect. You start small, person by person, house by house, and then the message spreads,” she says.

“People in my community were very supportive. Many came to me or sent me messages saying ‘This is a great thing you’re doing. This should have happened a long time ago.’ ”

Like A Kid In A Candy Store

Participating in Clara’s Big Ride and starting her own fundraiser has been an all around “amazing experience,” she says.

In addition, Haley will finally get the chance to meet her idol in person!

“I emailed Clara about my fundraiser and she replied back and asked me to come to the Big Ride event in Regina and say hello. I couldn’t believe that it was actually her getting back to me,” she says.

“I’m excited like a kid in a candy store.”

Haley hopes she will have reached her new fundraising goal of $1,500 by the time Clara visits Regina in June. And what happens if she meets her goal even earlier than that?

“I’ll probably raise my goal to $2,000, but I don’t even dare to think that far ahead. I guess, I’ll start thinking about it when I get there.”

Do you want to help Haley to reach her Giving Goal? It’s easy! Go to Haley’s Giving Group page and give $10, $20 or $50 for mental health!

Coming Alongside a Hero: Haley’s Fundraiser for Mental Health

Category: PeopleCharity Matters