(By Kim Ryan) Every walk on Fort Myers Beach, especially nearing sunset, is beautiful, but Thursday night was extra special. People gathered at Newton Beach Park to participate in the first Wellness Walk to encourage people to live free from silence, stigma and shame.
The event was organized by Fort Myers Beach resident Annie Meehan who besides being an international speaker, author, and Certified Coach & Mental Wellness has lost 3 family members to addiction and mental health issues. She was joined by Jeff Johnson, founder of Living Undeterred. Jeff is driving around the country in an RV, something he had no experience with prior to this trip, talking about mental health, substance abuse and addiction.
The goal of the tour is to end the stigma around these issues, starting with the conversation with those affected by substance abuse, and those working in the mental health and addiction fields. And, begin to build a collective of resources to find alternative solutions to work toward a better future.
Before the walk began Jeff shared how he came to start his organization. In 2016 he got a call that changed his life. He learned his oldest son had died from fentanyl poisoning at the age of 23. In the next few years he also lost his wife to alcoholism. In 2020, Jeff left his career in finance and founded a not for profit, Choices Network, dedicated to educating kids, parents, teachers & coaches on the importance of making positive choices. He wrote his first book, “This One’s For You: An Inspirational Journey Through Addiction, Death and Meaning”, and started the Living Undeterred Project.
Jeff passionately explained that we’re losing lives at an alarming rate, and how he hopes to help build new ideas for how we can end these epidemics. As he spoke to the group, he reiterated his motto Purpose becomes Passion when it gets Personal. With that the colorful group of 15 or more was off walking in pairs or trios, for whatever distance they wanted, sharing stories or quietly contemplating what they had heard.
If you would like more information about Living Undeterred, the tour, or how you can help check out Jeff’s website. Fifty percent of proceeds from the tour will be going back to our non-profit state partners to help them continue to make a difference in their communities. The remaining funds will go to founder Jeff Johnston’s charity, Choices Network, Ltd. to help make a difference on a larger scale.