Ambling alongside student Mario Escudero on a sunny Friday morning around Gavilan College was something of a liberating leisure, especially on a weekday.
Stunning in the middle of spring and meticulously manicured by a diligent grounds crew of four people, the campus is tranquil amid folding foothills marked by fibrous Manzanita trees and rugged oaks with twisting arms.
The organized walk that took place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday wasn’t for a protest, competition or mandatory class assignment. The intention was to carve out time to mentally re-center, soak up some fresh air and make a conscious effort to get up and move – hence, the “Walk for Health.”
Between a daunting economic climate and the nagging anxieties of being a student, “what’s the one thing we all need to share right now?” speculated Escudero, strolling along in Adidas track pants and a powder blue T-shirt that read “walk it out” on the back. “Good health. Good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.”
Taking a meditative stroll, says Escudero, is conducive to all of the above.
“Everything just falls into place,” he says.
As the lead organizer of Gavilan’s second annual “Walk for Health,” wherein students, teachers and staff raise money for a charitable cause by getting sponsored and completing a 20-minute course (as many times as they want, on their own time throughout the day), Escudero is a proponent of taking a mindful, intentional approach to wellness awareness.
The 35-year-old Gilroy native who works as a barista at the Gavilan campus coffee stand became impassioned about nutrition, practicing a balanced lifestyle and preventative healthcare after his father, Frank Escudero, passed away following a two-year battle with cancer. Frank was diagnosed in 2007 and died in 2009 at the age of 63. He worked for 30 years at a local cannery in Gilroy.
“It hit us really hard, really fast,” said Escudero, recalling the emotional toil the loss took on his mother, two brothers and one sister.
Taking long walks around the Gavilan campus gave him peace during the grief process, Escudero explained.
While he had always been interested in exploring a career in the medical field, his father’s death is what “made me want to push myself harder,” said Escudero.
A heightened interest in preventative healthcare prompted him to found and spearhead the Gavilan “Walk for Health” in 2011 with the help of several student clubs, teachers, staff and close friends. The event saw about 100 participants last year, whose sponsorships contributed 10 percent of the proceeds that went to Tsunami victims in Japan. The rest of the proceeds were used kick-start this years’ walk, which will donate between 50 to 70 percent of its raised funds to the Gilroy Compassion Center.
Located at 8425 Monterey Road, the Compassion Center is a grassroots outreach organization offering food, clothes, shelter and support services. The goal is to stay open year-round and offset the hours of the National Guard Armory in Gilroy, which is only open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Nov. 28 through March 31. As supporters of the Gilroy Compassion Center hope to mitigate the displaced downtime by eventually staying open day and night, every little bit of fundraising helps.
Now in his second year at Gavilan, Escudero is applying for the college’s nursing program. He entertains the idea of working at a local clinic – such as the Gardner South County Health Center – but is open to what opportunities may come his way.
Ideally, Walk for Health 2012 will see double the proceeds and participants, he noted.
“I’m hoping this will help people learn to socialize more, enjoy campus and give to community,” he said.