“Stories of Self” from the Georgia State Walking College

The Walking College curriculum included a new assignment this year. Based on the teachings of Marshall Ganz, a Professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former United Farm Workers organizer, Fellows are asked to develop their Public Narrative. This narrative consists of three parts: their Story of Self, Story of Us/Community, and Story of Now. 

According to Ganz, “Stories not only teach us how to act – they inspire us to act.”

This month, we are featuring two Fellows who have just completed the Georgia State Walking College, which was produced in partnership with AARP Livable Communities. 

Check out our members’ Stories of Self:

Carolyn Hartfield, a 72-year old, has been a health and wellness practitioner since the mid-1980’s. She is founder of the nonprofit, Happy Healthy Lifestyles, Inc. and continues to lead the weekly Just Walk! a Walk with a Doc program, now virtual, sponsored by AARP Georgia, under her Walk for Wellness program

I am a city girl. Growing up, I very rarely visited a park. I was a girly-girl. Moving forward to when I relocated to Atlanta knowing only one person, I joined a group of newcomers. It was the Black Newcomers Network. As a result, I went with them on the first hike of my life. We hiked Blood Mountain and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences ever. I was so excited, at one point, I was leading the group since the trail was easy to follow.  Several years after that, I started leading my own hikes and became an Outings Leader through the Sierra Club. 

I felt there had to be others who had never hiked and would enjoy these  experiences. I started describing my hikes in my online newsletter. My groups started to grow and others were inspired to become hike leaders. Moving forward, I realized that not everyone is ready for the challenge of hiking in the mountains.  That brings me to the challenge of getting others out walking. Being a health coach, I understood the importance of being outdoors, including the health benefits of walking. I soon discovered Walk with a Doc.

Well, my first obstacle was, I am not a doctor. I lobbied Walk with a Doc to start an adjunct program for people like me who are not doctors, but are in the arena of health and would like to join their program.  It worked! My group was the first Just Walk group of the Walk with a Doc program.

Shortly thereafter, I was told that others inquired and the Just Walk program has continued to grow. As a member of the 500+ chapters, since our first year we have had the distinction of having more participatory walks than any of the other chapters! We are now heading toward our 4th year. I approached AARP GA to sponsor the program to help promote their Livable Communities initiative and get more people out walking in their communities. People were making new friends, solving world problems, personal problems, and just enjoying the great outdoors, not to mention the health and socialization benefits of the weekly walks. Due to the pandemic, currently we are not doing face-to-face walks, but continue the walks virtually. Participants are encouraged to walk in their neighborhood parks and streets. We share health tips and have quarterly webinars with special guests to share various benefits of walking outdoors.

David Maryniak is Department Chair, Chemistry/Department Head at Augusta Technical College. David believes that the mind and body are connected and views exercise and nature as important facets of exercise for the brain.

My name is David Maryniak and I grew up in a small farm town south of Buffalo NY.  The hard work and long summer hours instilled a work ethic in me to “finish the job”.  Being a part of producing world class vegetables gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride.  I knew then that I wanted to be a farmer. As a student in high school, I was disinterested in academics, and not academically challenged. I enjoyed athletics including football, basketball, volleyball, and pole vaulting. In my junior year I took a chemistry class under Ben Varco. His passion for teaching and methodologies made an immediate and lasting impact on me.

This was a critical component of my life as at that time I had little interest in education or school in general. He sparked my curiosity in chemistry because of how he showed me the relevance of chemistry to life and how fascinating it can also be. Furthermore, he gave encouragement and constructive critiques, but also made it clear that he believed in my ability to succeed in chemistry. Although I still wanted to pursue athletics and farming, I decided to become a chemistry major at Rochester Institute of Technology. The choice of the college was made easier as I did obtain a small scholarship to play basketball.

My basketball career quickly ended when during fall semester I severely injured my ankle. There was a period of despair during that first fall semester, and I was on academic probation. Come spring I decided to find a job. I worked as a science stockroom attendant. This allowed me to understand the importance of the set up and techniques used in physics, biology, and chemistry. Additionally, I met many other professors and students. These personnel interactions greatly helped with my healing process. At RIT, I was academically challenged and had the opportunity to work as part of a cooperative education curriculum.

My first co-op was at an environmental analysis lab where I learned the importance of precise lab work, data analysis, in the name of environmental protection. My second co-op was at a pharmaceutical plant, where I was involved in the organic synthesis of antifungal molecules. As a 21-year-old I was awestruck by being able to manipulate molecules in the name of curing disease, publishing results, and getting my name on a patent. At that point in my life, I was driven to succeed in the competitive world of medicinal chemistry. I also found great joy in hiking and biking again and learned the importance of the mind and body connection to strike a balance in life.  

At the University of South Carolina, I had a routine of commuting to the college by bicycle and a laser focus on completing my research. I was driven to finish my degree and pursue a career as a pharmaceutical chemist. Unfortunately, during my sophomore year, my research advisor lost federal funding. For me, this meant I had to teach to earn my stipend. Initially, this was a huge disappointment to me as I had to teach during the day and then work on research projects at night. Over time, the satisfaction I began to get from helping others achieve academic success transcended my world. Explaining difficult chemistry concepts in a patient, compassionate, engaging way became my inspiration. In a few months’ time, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.  My compassion ethic surfaced and helping others was my reward. Fortunately, my “finish the job” work ethic kicked in and I completed my research and graduated with a PhD.   

Upon graduation, I gladly accepted a job teaching chemistry at Augusta Technical Institute in 1993 and I have had several roles and worked on numerous projects, and I consider the faculty staff and administration as family. Above all, the students that I have had the honor and pleasure of coaching have been my reward and a dream come true for me. Their successes and the human element of education is now my driving force. One key component that is typically lacking at many 2-year colleges is the ability to incorporate physical exercise, nature along with a sound education to build a wholesome person and community.

As a commuter college that has classes year-round including summers, there was little to no emphasis on the emotional and physical well-being of the community. The focus was to increase numbers of students and classes taught, teach technical skills to enable graduates to find employment in the field. While this is certainly important, I knew from my life experiences that the college was lacking in providing opportunities for physical and emotional wellbeing. During my decades at the college, I have regularly commuted by bicycle. Often people ask, “why do you do that?” or say “it’s too dangerous”.

In 2005 after Katrina, when gas went from $1.50 to $3.50 overnight, many people asked: “how can I do that?” For different reasons, this sentiment occurred again during the SARS CoV-2 pandemic. People want to move and become self-sufficient; they are just not sure how to start.

In 2020, a new college president was hired and a new sense of the importance of “community” evolved. I was nominated by the President’s executive council to participate in the Walking College. I learned so much about what I have always believed that the mind and body are deeply connected and we as humans are meant to move. Being a part of nature, especially when done with others builds lasting relationships, gives an appreciation for our environment, and provides many with health benefits. I am currently constructing a multipurpose trail on our campus that can be utilized by the community to provide a safe area for people to enjoy nature and exercise. My dream for our community is to have an educated, active area for people to enjoy nature and each other. In turn, I believe this creates a society that will ensure an awareness of challenges to our society and provide solutions to these challenges.  

In conclusion, I never considered myself a leader or community organizer but was inspired by the Walking College. The trail project will require the efforts of many, and I am hopeful to not only build a trail, but also develop and strengthen relationships. I have already had several faculty and staff and alumni help with trail building. As a further inspiration I have personally realized how beneficial helping others can be. I have recently completed the Paceline century ride and raised $600 for Cancer research at the Georgia Cancer center. I realize the challenge of getting people to become involved with the trail and will use my story to hopefully inspire them to reap the rewards for themselves and the community.  

The Walking College offers participants an opportunity to hone their skills and knowledge around creating vibrant, safe, accessible communities for all.

Paired with experienced advocates, Walking College fellows learn about the historical underpinnings of the car-centric transportation landscape, the basics of design and policy of non-motorized transportation, and develop essential leadership skills. Learn more.