Aspen High students organize 5K for mental health awareness |

Aspen High students organize 5K for mental health awareness

“Return to Hope” run and walk slated for Saturday in Rio Grande Park

Natalie Wesner and Elleana Bone hold up a poster for the Return to Hope 5K run and walk they're organizing for mental health awareness.
Natalie Wesner/Courtesy photo

What: Return to Hope 5K

When: Saturday at 10 a.m.

Where: Rio Grande Park

Registration: $17 for adults, $12 for participants under the age of 16 at

Fundraising for mental health resources is only part of the point for the organizers of this weekend’s “Return to Hope” 5K run and walk on Saturday at Rio Grande Park in Aspen.

“I definitely think that one of the bigger things, besides raising money, is just to really spread awareness and again, do something memorable that … takes action instead of saying, like, ‘Oh, this resource exists,’” said Natalie Wesner, an Aspen High School student who is co-organizing the event with fellow student Elleana Bone.

Both students are candidates for the International Baccalaureate Diploma and the event is a component of their Creativity, Activity, Service requirement through the program.

They also are enthusiastic advocates for more mental health resources and more open conversation about the challenges that Bone and Wesner said they have struggled with. Though the event is part of their IB Diploma effort, they’ve channeled their time and energy into the planning because they care deeply about mental health and well-being.

“It’s something that we’re both very passionate about, and then we were talking about maybe doing something that would increase positive mental health, in addition to fundraising for it,” Bone said.

Registration is $17 for adults and $12 for participants under the age of 16. Participants can pay the registration fee via Venmo (@ReturnToHopeRun) or in cash on the day of the event. Funds raised will support Aspen Strong, a nonprofit focused on mental health resources and advocacy, and the Roaring Fork Organization of Therapeutic Services (ROOTS), a peer counseling training program organized by and for local students.

“We both definitely knew that we wanted to do something surrounding mental health, because something that I’ve noticed is that, while a lot of us, I think, are passionate about certain causes, we create resources, and we make plans, but we don’t actually take action on the things that we’re really passionate about,” Wesner said.

“I think when we started planning the fundraiser, we really wanted to do something that could get everyone involved, that could take action,” she added.

Wesner and Bone hope the event will bolster an awareness about mental health challenges and encourage people to feel comfortable talking about the issues without minimizing them.

“In a lot of ways, Gen Z has kind of done a good job of destigmatizing it, but in kind of relation with that, they’ve done a very good job of normalizing it” — meaning that serious mental health challenges can sometimes become a joking matter, Bone said. She hopes that conversations can acknowledge that navigating mental health can be hard without diminishing those struggles at the same time.

All are welcome and encouraged to participate in Saturday’s event at whatever pace is comfortable to them. The course will run along the Rio Grande Trail from Rio Grande Park in Aspen to Stein Park at the end of Cemetery Lane and back again. Bone and Wesner emphasized that participation and community are part of the goal that focuses on impact and awareness more than a dollar amount raised.

“It’s a walk, it’s a jog, it’s a run — bring your dog, bring your kids, bring your grandparents,” Bone said.