In the winter of 2002/03, two groups of people came together with the common interest of increasing their levels of physical fitness. One of these groups was of Dixon Hall service users. (Dixon Hall is a social service centre catering to the needs of low-income people in downtown Toronto.) The second group brought together mental health service consumer/survivors from the Toronto area. Tom Allen, himself a consumer/survivor and a staff member from Dixon Hall, organized and brought together the two groups.
The Dixon Hall group was successful in getting a donation of running shoes from The Running Room. Group members were able to get a good pair of running shoes and public transit fares to attend the weekly training meetings. A schedule was developed to encourage members to run or walk for a minimum of three times each week. A notice went out to Dixon Hall’s service users and people began to join the group. The word spread rapidly and eleven people signed up. On a cold day in February, the group began to walk and run together. The initial goal was to be ready for a 5k walk and/or run in May. The group progressed well. The weekly walking/running meetings were held at the East York campus of Centennial College each Wednesday at lunch time, since a number of the members were taking courses there. Between eight and ten people attended these weekly meets and most of these did individual training, as set out in the schedules, between the weekly meetings.
As the Dixon Hall group was coalescing, approaches were made to the consumer/survivor population through the various consumer/survivor organizations in Toronto. Again, it was possible to offer running shoes and public transit assistance. Enough interest was shown in the consumer/survivor community that it became possible to approach potential funders to start off this second group. Accent on Ability (a non-profit organization that encourages consumer/survivor initiatives), the Gerstein Centre and Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre were approached for start-up funds. All three organizations agreed to provide some funding. It was sufficient to start up the second group. From early March 2003, this group began to meet every Sunday morning at the Riverdale Perk, a neighourhood coffee shop on the edge of Withrow Park.
In April, the two groups began to meet as one and in May the group members ran and walked their first 5 kilometre race, the Backs in Motion race at Sunnybrook Hospital. It was a beautiful west coast kind of day and all nine participants in the race successfully walked or ran the 5 kilometers. This was followed by entry in the Nissan Challenge 5 kilometre run/walk in June and in August involvement in the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Don River Run.
The members had a celebratory party at Riverdale Perk in the summer of 2003 and, at that party, the decision was made that the group should become a formal and permanent entity. In January 2004, it was decided to become a program of Accent on Ability.
Since then, the group has continued to meet every Sunday at the Riverdale Perk and participated regularly in community running/walking events. (See Statistics.)