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A Bamboo Projects fundraising initiative aims to raise $1 million so the local charity can help even more people with mental health issues.

A Caloundra father of two is putting his body on the line in a fundraising drive to allow more people to access outdoor activities to assist with or prevent mental illness.

Bamboo Projects founder Chris Paterson set out five months ago with a mission to run, ride or kayak 16,000 kilometres – the distance around Australia – to raise $1 million to continue the charity’s initiatives. At the time of speaking with My Weekly Preview, he had made it past the 4500-kilometre mark.

The Sunshine Coast-based charity has an all-abilities boat that has been used to take people out for a day of adventure on the water in Mooloolaba. Mr Paterson says all money raised through the Keep Moving Forward fundraising drive will go towards covering the costs of keeping the boat on the water, as well as beginning to expand to other regions.

The goal is to raise $1 million to build an education centre for people transitioning from living on the streets to learning trades and strengthening their mental health in order to turn their lives around.

“There are a lot of homeless people with similar stories; they’ve had a marriage or family break-up and no family support. The centre wouldn’t be a replacement for medical professionals; we would work alongside them to provide that complementary support,” says Mr Paterson, who felt the desire to act following his own mental health battle, after he began having panic attacks at the age of 14.

“I ended up on antidepressants and you try this and that in the quest to find the right balance, but I went on to work for more than 20 years in construction and came to realise the male suicide rate is very bad. I struggled with alcohol addiction, being a high-functioning alcoholic for a number of years. I had to get drunk just to get my confidence up enough to walk out the door,” he says.

“I’m about creating awareness, getting out in nature, getting out on the ocean, mountain biking, walking. One of the ways I found my way out of depression was to go fishing. I then started meditating, stopped drinking and began focusing more on my mental health.

“I would take blokes fishing and we’d chat in a comfortable environment. With the help of the Sunshine Coast Council, we were able to buy an all-abilities boat and we are now taking between 50 and 70 people out on the water each week, which is great.

“As we are a non-clinical service, it is difficult for us to find grants and funding options that fit what we offer and we have been self-funding for the past five years with the assistance of some local businesses, friends and family.”

Mr Paterson’s wife Kristy and their 10- and 12-year-old sons are on the road with him. Ms Paterson home schools the boys and organises community events to raise awareness of the importance of exercise and nutrition and raise funds whenever they reach a new community.

“You’ve got to be your own hero, get up, go for a walk, cut out lots of sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, these are all things that fuel the problem,” Mr Paterson says.

“Everyone wants to cure depression with a tablet, but it won’t make your job satisfaction better, your marriage better. I don’t think we need more homeless shelters, I believe we need education centres, job security, support and mateship to beat mental illness.”

Mr Paterson is no stranger to taking on physical feats. He has kayaked around Bribie Island non-stop and run around Moreton Island in the name of raising awareness.

“When I see kids come out on the boat that have travelled for two-and-a-half hours just to have the experience while they are hooked up to tubes into their stomach to eat, this pain I experience temporarily is nothing if it means they can continue to have these experiences,” he says.

A $20 donation will cover the cost of fuel for a day and $100 will purchase a life jacket that is suitable for passengers with sensory sensitivity. Visit the Bamboo Projects Facebook Page to find out how to make a tax-deductible donation.

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