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Iowa couple walks through Jackson to instill community along their way

Karl “K.C.” Tompkins, 34, and Cala Von Muenster, 27, walked through southeast Missouri on a quest to bring awareness to issues of emotional trauma, chemical dependency and mental wellness.

The couple walked over 400 miles from Clarence, IA, and started their journey two months ago, walking 10 to 20 miles a day. Tompkins said they didn’t start their journey with a solid plan, but with a commitment to do whatever they could to prevent the stigma people find when dealing with these issues.

“I sat up in bed and just decided this is what I was going to do,” Tompkins said. “I’ve seen a lot of people not achieve their potential, either because they have been influenced by drugs or been influenced by emotional trauma — people holding them down instead of holding them up.”

Reinstalling community has been central to their mission to help those dealing with trauma and recovery. As they reached a new town or city on their journey, they try to find projects to help the communities that they interact with.

“We’ve picked up trash; we like to plant trees in city parks,” Tompkins said. “We do anything that the community feels a single individual with some time could do to help.”

While in the area, Tomp-kins and Von Muenster spent a day volunteering at the Southeast Missouri Humane Society, mowed for Barefoot Leon’s Coffee House and Music Emporium and participated in the Love Your Neighbor Day church event in Sikeston. They also stayed in Sikeston for a weeklong training to become certified as peer specialists through the Missouri Recovery Network.

Von Muenster compared their mission with Smokey Bear saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” She said the phrase applies to them, and that we are all tasked with doing our part to make the world a better place.

“We have legs, we have mouths, so we must do something,” Von Muenster said.

Both Tompkins and Von Muenster have dealt personally with issues of trauma and chemical dependency, which forced them to understand how important community and recovery is.

“We are an unlikely pair who at points in our lives were medically told we would not recover,” Von Muenster said.

Tompkins was hit by driver who was texting in 2013, and suffered head trauma. Due to the incident and the medication he was on at the time, Tompkins cannot remember two years of his life. When he did come to, the left side of his body didn’t work well, and doctors told him he would drag his left leg for the rest of his life.

“I just looked at the doctor and begrudgingly laughed and said ‘watch me,’” Tompkins said.

Von Muenster was the victim of assault resulting in a broken jaw and PTSD. Her PTSD manifested in physical seizures, which were treated with medication that left her in a wheelchair for a time.

“I’m able to walk beyond [get past] what has occurred,” Von Muenster said. “So I suppose for us to gain awareness is to also show there is a way out for people who might not see a way out of what they created or what has been inflicted upon them.”

While in Cape Girardeau, they decided to switch their transportation from walking to bikes acquired at Cyclewerx. The couple hopes the switch will help them be able to do more when they get to a new community. In a city such as Jackson, it would take them two hours to travel from one part of the city to another. On bikes, they hope to be more efficient with their time.

They plan on traveling until they arrive at Golden Meadow, LA, which was chosen for the poetic nature of its name. By the time they are done, they will have traveled more than 1,000 miles.

The journey hasn’t been without challenges. For one, they have been surviving on about $12 each day. For another, sharing the road with vehicles has sometimes been dangerous. The couple recalled one time when they were walking on the side of the road and a driver purposefully served toward them and forced them to run out of the way.

They try to avoid walking at night, but finding a new place to stay and pitch their tent has been a challenge. They have been grateful for the kindness some have given them along the way, especially from those who had personal experiences with trauma or substance abuse.

“The best experiences we’ve had are not the people we’ve approached but the people who have approached us,” Von Muenster said.

Tompkins said they have been forming a network of people they will continue to support after their journey ends.

“We can only be as strong as people allow us to be, hence community,” Tompkins said. “The more people within a community that are working together for a same goal, the more that community can accomplish. It’s the same for us.”

Those who want to follow Tompkins and Von Muenster can visit their page at Facebook.com/StepsTowardPeace.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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