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'Wilderness heals' wounds for women throughout Commonwealth

Date: 7/14/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Elizabeth Ortiz of Westfield, a residential coordinator for Behavioral Health Network, said she isn't working in the field of human services for the money -- she's in it for the cause.

This weekend she'll hike through the White Mountains of New Hampshire with 60 other women, proving that no challenge is too great for those who work collectively. Wilderness Heals is a three-day hike to raise funds for Boston's Elizabeth Stone House, an organization for families suffering from mental illness, substance abuse or domestic violence.

"I think one of the most powerful things about this hike is that it has a do-good feel-good [theme] to it," Amy Howard, associate director of development at the Elizabeth Stone House, said. "Raising money for an important cause and helps [hikers] to be as healthy as they can be. Also it goes along with the motto of the Elizabeth Stone House: when working together women can overcome obstacles that may otherwise insurmountable."

Howard noted that hikers must raise a minimum of $1,200 to participate.

"The Wilderness Heals pledge [and] hike is absolutely vital to our organization because it raises the largest amount of unrestricted funding [for our organization] each year and allows us to truly adapt to the needs of the families we have here in shelter," she said. "It's a tough economy so we're seeing more families in need of services than ever. With the state of Massachusetts tightening its belt [these funds are urgently needed]."

Howard added the Elizabeth Stone House has 24 families in its Transitional Housing Program and another 60 families on the waiting list.

Ortiz said her decision to participate in the walk stemmed from her desire to be physically active as well as personal experiences.

"My mom is mentally ill [with schizophrenia]," she explained. "Before she became really sick she would take in boarders and homeless people and family members who didn't have another place to go. She would help set them up with services [and counsel them, unofficially]."

Ortiz, now her mother's full-time guardian, added that she is grateful for organizations such as the Elizabeth Stone House and its ability to empower women to regain control over their lives.

"Wilderness Heals encourages women to set challenging physical, emotional and financial goals," according to Mary Crotty, public relations coordinator for the Elizabeth Stone House. "These challenges mirror the experiences of the women who come to the Elizabeth Stone House."

To contribute to Ortiz's Wilderness Heals hike, visit or send a donation to the Elizabeth Stone House, Attention: Wilderness Heals, P.O. Box 300039, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.

Additional information may also be obtained by calling (617) 427-9801 ext. 415.