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'Just believe:' Mount Forest to honour late community champion with Chalk It Up event

Heather Aitken, who passed away last month, was a tireless community advocate and volunteer who will be honoured on Saturday
Heather Aitken and her husband Stu Husk pictured at last year's Chalk It Up event. Keegan Kozolanka/GuelphToday file photo

“Just believe."

This wasn’t just a saying for Heather Aitken. For her, the secret to happiness was helping others and believing in them.

This Saturday, members of the Downtown Mount Forest Retail Committee will hold “Chalk Up Mount Forest," a sidewalk and driveway drawing event in memory of Aitken.

Aitken passed away April 12 from a rare mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalomyopathy (MNGIE) disease. She was in her 51st year.

“She was such an advocate for her community, always caring for others, especially kids,” said Amanda Boylan of the Downtown Mount Forest Retail Committee.

“She was so community oriented and very involved with the people of Mount Forest. And she was always about bringing us together as a community.”

This is not the first Chalk it Up event in Mount Forest.

Last year, Aitken and her husband, Stu Husk, held the event in honour of first responders and frontline workers during the pandemic.

Over 150 participants displayed their artistic abilities with colourful messages of encouragement and thanks, brightening the sidewalks and driveways of Mount Forest.

“This helped to bring the community together in a safe and fun way during this crazy time we are all in right now,” Boylan said.

“And we sure did go crazy with the chalk. Myself and my kids, it was so much fun!”

Aitken and Husk donated the chalk as well as gift vouchers and more than 100 pizzas for participants.

A few months later, Aitken was keen to plan another community event, with a dance party included.

“She organized it. She thought if we can’t be together because of the pandemic, we can still dance together, even if we are physically distanced. The event was broadcast on the local radio station and everyone took part,” Boylan said.

And this year’s Chalk it Up event, Boylan said, will celebrate Aitken and all that she has done for the community, honouring the memory of a dear friend.

“She fought her disease for so many years. People can write messages for her and her family, and show their support by colouring green ribbons to raise awareness about Mito disease."

Aitken was dedicated to supporting Mito Canada, wearing her Mito green ribbon proudly.

She was a volunteer for many years with the Mount Forest Patriots Junior C Hockey Club and the Victoria Cross Public School Breakfast Club.

“But it was all of the little things she used to do too,” Boylan said.

From donating hundreds of fidget spinners to local kids or buying warm winter clothing for the Wellington Heights Warm Winter Wishes program, Aitken was always eager to find new ways to support her community.

“She always supported me. I own a business here in town and Heather bought me flowers. It was just before she passed away,” Boylan said.

“She congratulated me on four years since opening my business. That was Heather. I was so lucky to call her my friend.”

This year’s Chalk it Up event is a way to show appreciation for all  Aitken gave her community.

‘It’s amazing because National Nurse’s Week is coming up. A year ago, it was Heather’s mission to support them,” Boylan said.

“We are all so excited and so many people have stepped up offering donations.”

Local businesses and community members have contributed gift cards and gift baskets.

“And Wellington Drone will be volunteering their time too. They will take pictures of the coloured driveways. Everyone wants to come together in Heather’s memory," Boylan said.

She encourages everyone to show their support by drawing green ribbons and messages of appreciation.

“And with the time we are in now, this is something we can do safely and at a distance.”

“We all need to get outside and remember Heather. She has done so much for us and she will be sorely missed. Our hearts go out to her family,” Boylan said.

Aitken’s catch phrase, “just believe” is now widely known in the Mount Forest community.

“It was mentioned over and over again at her funeral,” Boylan said.

“Heather really did 'just believe.' She always believed in the goodness in people.”