Mitchell Williams describes himself as “a pretty regular guy,” but he’s a national silver-medal winning bowler. The 25-year-old, with a degree in music composition, currently works as a delivery driver for LunchIn, a healthy meal delivery service.
Williams also struggles with mental health problems.
A few years ago, he had an anxiety attack at work and ended up in an ambulance. A couple of weeks later, his grandmother died. He describes his life since as being a journey of trying to “catch up.”
Getting out of gutter
Williams has been a five-pin bowler his entire life.
“The last few years, ever since my mental health was going down the drain, it was affecting my bowling,” he said.
“I would not be able to handle just the typical stress of bowling, of throwing a ball and not getting the result you wanted. It would make me feel like I lost my ability. It would make me feel like everyone was looking at me and judging me, like I couldn’t do it anymore. Like, ‘Look at him, he used to be good, but now he’s crap.’”
Williams wanted to prove to himself that he could still bowl, but more importantly, he wanted to prove to himself that he could attend a bowling event and have fun.
There was a national tournament coming up, so he thought it would be the perfect opportunity to work on both his bowling aspirations and his mental health. However, he didn’t have enough money to attend.
Williams says the customers he meets delivering LunchIn meals are always supportive of him, so he had a thought: maybe they would support him on his mental health journey.
For Williams, being able to bowl is inextricably intertwined with mental health. So, he approached LunchIn owner Jon Butler with the idea, and Butler was immediately on board.
“He was like, you know my story, and how (bowling) is like my escape,” Butler said. “Well, there’s a big tournament, semi-pro, like this is the next step to get into the pro tour. A cash type tournament, and he said, ‘I think I’m going to go, but I don’t have any cash.’”
Butler and Williams hatched a plan over coffee that not only helped Williams, but will help many other people who are struggling with mental illness or mental health problems, too.
Launch of program
“As a business, our slogan is, ‘Delivering healthy moments to healthy lives,’” Butler said. “That includes nutritional health, which is our lunch box.”
But Butler also wants to promote mental health through his business.
“So, how can we tackle this big problem using the products and services that we offer?”
Butler set up a page on the LunchIn website where customers could make donations to help send Williams to the bowling tournament. He needed about $500 to cover the cost of the tournament and a jersey.
The page operated similar to a Kickstarter campaign. It had the $500 goal posted at the top, and options for customers to donate funds to help Williams get to the tournament. For every donation, customers would receive a thank you gift in exchange. Depending on the amount donated, they could get anything from a thank you card to a week of free lunch boxes. There was also an option to change the $1 delivery fee to $3, with $2 going to Williams’ fund.
“For anyone that gets the pleasure of having him deliver your lunch, you know that he loves to brighten your day every time he sees you,” it said on the fundraising page. “However, he sometimes has a lot of difficultly brightening his own day. Mitchell regularly struggles with his mental health, but to cope, he often finds refuge at the bowling alley.”
In no time at all, generous customers came together to get Williams the money he needed to attend the tournament. They ended up raising $550.
“It took a lot of the pressure off of, like, how do I advance this career in bowling that I’ve decided I want?”
After the fundraiser for Williams was such a success, Butler teamed up with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) so his business can continue to do the same thing for other young people struggling with mental illness.
It’s called the Youth Arts and Fitness Program. The idea is that most people have something they enjoy doing, whether it’s a hobby, interest, sport or artistic expression, and these positive outlets are protective factors that can help to moderate the effects of risk factors to mental health.
“When you get caught in this loop of negativity and bad things, what is that thing you either love doing, like Mitchell, our driver, or would like to try that you may not necessarily have the means to do?” asks Butler.
The program will help people do those things.
The CMHA will find people who are interested in benefitting from the program, and Butler will feature one person at a time on the LunchIn website until their fundraising goal is met. The program is set to launch on the LunchIn website sometime this month.
Meanwhile, Williams says he still struggles with mental health problems.
“Just today, I got home from work, cried, and had a two-hour nap before I could get up and do anything else.”
Butler adds that Williams sometimes needs time away from delivering lunches to work on his mental health, but the fundraiser was a positive boost for him.
“I know the next tournament is in Regina (this month), and I know I’m going to be there,” Williams said. “If it wasn’t for this, I might not have known I was going to be there. So, now I have a concrete goal. And any kind of concrete goal is good for someone who’s been aimless in the last year.
“Even if it seems a bit ‘high up,’ like, I had a lot of people say to me, ‘That’s ridiculous, Mitchell, I can’t believe … you’re spending that kind of money to go bowl.’ And to me, it was, I couldn’t do anything else but spend that money and go bowl. And there’s lots of people who have dreams like that that deserve them.
“I’d be happy for anyone else to get support from this.”