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Van Allen’s Karen Smith Treks Across the State, Bringing Awareness to Mental Health

Kare Smith with her familyThis June, Karen Smith walked 312 miles across the state of Iowa over the course of three weeks. She embarked on this journey, motivated to raise awareness for mental health and inspired by her own personal connections.

Karen has been with our District since 2006, working at Van Allen Elementary School. She began as a paraeducator before transitioning into her current role as the principal’s secretary. 

“I wanted to do something big,” said Karen. “I wanted to also do something for the community, giving back to programs that help people with mental illness.”

Karen’s two sons and her husband live with mental health challenges. Learning how to care for her loved ones has taught her a lot about mental health, and the stigma surrounding it.

“If you haven’t experienced mental illness or lived with someone who has, then I think it’s hard to truly understand,” said Karen. “That’s part of where the stigma comes from. That’s why I wanted to share the story so that people could really get a window into what it’s like.”

Karen Smith at the end of her journeyTo walk across the state, Karen started at the Big Sioux River, on the border between Iowa and South Dakota. She followed Highway 18, stopping in various small towns along the way to rest and refuel, before finally making it to the Mississippi River.

Karen started a Facebook page called Mom on a Mission for Mental Health to share her journey across the state. Her hope is to build an inclusive community where people can feel comfortable talking about mental health and know where they can find support.

She also started a GoFundMe page where people could donate money toward her cause. She raised over $3,700. The funds have been donated to Foundation 2, a crisis prevention agency in Cedar Rapids; CommUnity Crisis Center, a support resource in Johnson County; the I’m Glad You Stayed Project, which educates the public, especially teenagers, on suicide prevention; and This Is My Brave, a nonprofit organization that uses the performing arts to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction.

“I was proud of my mom for walking across Iowa for a cause that is personal to all of us,” said Karen’s son, Noah. “I couldn’t ask for a more hardworking mother, and now I can say ‘The woman who walked across Iowa for mental health is my mom!’”

Do you or does someone you know need help? It’s okay to reach out. Call or text 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or visit for additional resources.