Weekly Rainier Beach Walking Group Blends Health, Safety, and Community

by Aaron Burkhalter

Ready with their walking shoes, they gathered in a small meeting room at the Rainier Beach Community Center to start. After a brief chat, they were ready to enjoy a stroll in the sun.

These seniors — 17 in all — joined Kaiser Permanente Physician Kim Holland and Seattle Police Department’s Denise Bouldin, known to the neighborhood as Detective Cookie. They gathered just to walk and talk outside, getting exercise and building community.

Earlier this year, they met again for the first time in months. The walk had gone on hiatus while it sought a new location to meet. Re-energized and meeting again, they now meet every Friday at 11:30 a.m. at the Rainier Beach Community Center. Just across the hallway from the center’s active swimming pool, they sat in a circle and listened to Detective Cookie update everyone on her work.

The weekly walks aren’t just walks. It’s not merely healthy movement, but also relationship-building and safety training that Holland and Detective Cookie have rolled all into one. For 90 minutes, it’s all about health, safety, and community.

“When I was a teenager, and I was in the Panthers, right, we did medicine in the community,” Holland said, as she led the group through the sunny park. “And anybody is a healthcare person. Everybody that is here is a caregiver.”

Holland said the approach to health in has to be multifaceted, noting that Detective Cookie’s involvement is one of the main reasons she continues to do the program.

Earlier this year when the group reformed, Detective Cookie about her work in the area and public safety. Afterward, the walkers headed outside to the circular, paved area on the corner of Rainier Avenue and South Henderson Street and took several loops in a large circle.

The walked at a casual pace, with Holland bouncing from person-to-person, asking how they’re doing, catching up on their lives.

“Dr. Holland is an old school doctor,” said Tracey Rice, who cared for her mother at home and brought her mother earlier this year to join the walk and get some sun. “She’s just someone who opens herself up to her patients. She’s a friend of the family. I really feel a love there.”

Holland explained said the time together is important. Many of the seniors can get isolated, others gentrified out of their neighborhoods. This walk provides an anchor where they can get out in the neighborhood and be together.

This community and whole-health approach permeates Dr. Holland’s work. In addition to the weekly walks, she leads mindfulness classes. Mindfulness is a meditative practice that guides participants through noticing and accepting their world and experience around them, along with deep breathing and body awareness.

“Stand tall, breathe in, breath out, three breaths,” Holland said, describing the process. “Mindfulness is being present in the moment without judgment.”

The walking group has continued to meet every Friday. There is no cost or limitation on who may participate.

Led by Dr. Kim Holland, left, South Seattle elders walk through the park near the Rainier Beach Community Center in July. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)