August 5, 2015 | By Evan Shields – firstname.lastname@example.org
WESTMONT – Through water-based therapy a Westmont nonprofit is helping people who may be in the same boat with grief or addiction issues.
Mary Anne Smrz, a Westmont resident, founded the Red Kayak Institute based on her own experiences.
“About six or seven years ago, I had gone through a period of significant grief … and I found a lot of healing out on the water,” she said.
She thought it would be great to share her experiences with others who might be going through a difficult time. Smrz talked with the Edward Hospital and Health Services Cancer Center in 2013 and was able to set up a retreat with cancer survivors. The Edward Cancer Center has money to help with this type of program, but that is not typically the case.
“As I explored around, I realized a lot of people didn’t have budgets for this type of thing,” Smrz said.
That’s when she decided to start Red Kayak Institute as a nonprofit in 2013. Red Kayak now takes groups out on the water for either a half-day or full-day experience at Saganashkee Slough in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Josette Szalko, executive director of the Red Kayak Institute, said they’ve helped cancer survivors, women struggling with addiction and people coping with grief. She knew almost immediately the benefits of the group would be tremendous.
“When we did the first one [outing] with those cancer survivors, we knew we were on to something,” she said. Szalko said she has known Smrz personally for more than 20 years. Smrz asked Szalko to come aboard when she started the nonprofit.
Szalko said she didn’t hesitate when asked to join. She said Smrz’s passion, depth of caring, thoughtfulness and insight were all positives that made her want to join.
“She is a person that just exudes this energy you just feed off of,” she said.
Smrz said the overall response has been “fabulous,” and outings have grown year after year.
“We’ve gotten some great feedback. A lot of people, after going out on the water with us, they go out and buy their own kayaks,” she said.
The Red Kayak Institute will be the beneficiary of a community giving day on Aug. 11 at the Whole Foods, 201 63rd St., Willowbrook. Smrz said the nonprofit will receive 5 percent of all proceeds that day, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. She will also be at the store to talk about what the Red Kayak Institute does.