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Healthy Harford Day attendance grows, mental health and addiction components added

Healthy Harford Inc. has spent the past five years working to improve the physical health of Harford County residents, but the nonprofit coalition has recently incorporated mental health and fighting addiction into its mission of promoting healthy lifestyles.

Healthy Harford Inc. has spent the past five years working to improve the physical health of Harford County residents, but the nonprofit coalition has recently incorporated mental health and fighting addiction into its mission of promoting healthy lifestyles.

That was evident with the inclusion of the Human Rope to Stop the Dope program in this year's Healthy Harford Day.

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The fifth annual health fair was held Saturday morning off Thomas Street in Bel Air; about 2,500 people attended, according to organizers.

"We're adding mental health to our definition of a healthy lifestyle," Bari Klein, health promotions for Healthy Harford Inc., said. "We're encompassing it in our mission."

The Harford County government has sponsored Human Rope to Stop the Dope events in Bel Air for the past two years to raise awareness of drug addiction.

During this year's Healthy Harford Day, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman led a small group of people who have lost children to drug addiction and their supporters from the main stage to Churchville Road.

The group stood along the road near the intersection with Hays Street and waved to traffic.

Drivers honked as participants holding banners, signs and pictures of victims of drug addiction waved.

Veronica Kuhn, who recently moved to Conowingo from Bel Air, held a poster bearing a photo of her son, Alexander Christian Ward, who died Aug. 20 from a heroin overdose. He was 20 years old.

Kuhn stood with her son's three sisters, his father and additional relatives. They wore white T-shirts with the words "Heroin Kills" printed on the front. Kuhn said Mr. Ward's sister Autumn, who also lost her best friend to an overdose last year, coordinated making the posters.

"It's to promote awareness and educate people more on hope and recovery, and that's why we're here, to finish what my son wasn't able to do," she said of the Rope to Stop the Dope.

Mr. Ward had completed a 30-day treatment program at the Phoenix Recovery Center in Edgewood, and he was living in a "sobriety house" when he died, according to his mother.

She stressed that people who complete 30 days of drug treatment must have better post-treatment care.

"We can be a part of saving other [people's] loved ones from being lost to this disease," Kuhn said of addiction. "It's a bad disease."

She noted her son was an organ donor, and he was able to save four lives.

"It just helps with the loss of him, knowing that he was able to save others," Mr. Ward's sister, Tiffany Beyer, of Havre de Grace, said.

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Klein said the Rope to Stop the Dope is "just a natural fit" for Healthy Harford Day.

Klein noted the fair "just keeps getting bigger and bigger, people are more and more interested in living healthy lifestyles."

She spoke to a longtime vendor who told her that, during the first Healthy Harford Day in 2010, vendors struggled to encourage visitors to live healthy lifestyles.

Five years later, visitors come looking for information on exercise, nutrition, safety and various medical issues.

"People are looking for ways to connect with goods and services to live a healthy lifestyle," Klein said.

Aaron and Sarah Hunsinger, of Bel Air, stopped at the health fair with their three daughters.

Sarah Hunsinger said she received a flier about Healthy Harford through her children's school.

"In between soccer games, we stopped by," she said.

They picked up free bicycle helmets for the girls, as well as a slew of prizes and promotional items.

"Can we do it again next year?" 6-year-old Natalie asked her mother.

Daughter Aubrey, 9, earned a Baltimore Ravens cap from the Maryland National Guard soldiers operating a climbing wall.

She said she got about halfway up the wall.

"When I got to drop down," she said when asked about her favorite part of the experience.

Her 10-year-old sister, Brooke, said her favorite part of the fair was winning prizes playing a game wheel.

"It's been great," Aaron Hunsinger said. "We'll do it again next year."

Klein said more vendors and services were available this year compared to past years, such as the National Guard climbing wall, flu shots from University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center staff, as well as representatives of the Bel Air hospital's Kaufman Cancer Center, its cardiovascular unit and children's health center.

A number of other local medical providers, such as the Beacon Health Center in Havre de Grace, were there, too.

"They did take the information in, and it's nice to see the family come in with the kids," Ines Dunmeyer, a Spanish language interpreter, said of the tent run by clinic staff.

Health fair participants could check out cooking demonstrations as well as Zumba and LaBlast dance fitness routines.

"The goal is to get anyone, any age, any health, if you're just starting to work out or advanced fitness, to be able to get up and dance, because it is partner free," LaBlast instructor Barbara Ziegler said. "You don't need a partner, and it's a great cardiovascular workout."

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