Two of the most prolific fundraisers for Sunday's NAMI Walk took to the stage to extol the virtues of each other and also the event's namesake. 

Matt Kuntz, executive director for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Montana, thanked the estimated 1,500 walkers who participated in support of the advocacy organization. About $100,000 has been raised so far. 

"We could not do anything without you," Kuntz told the crowd, adding he is deeply appreciative. 

Kuntz recalled the time his friend, country singer Jason DeShaw, whose walking team was one of the top earners, brought a group of advocates together about five years ago saying he wanted to share his experiences with bipolar disorder. DeShaw told those he gathered that he wanted to share a message of faith and healing. 

"I'm so amazed and what he's done since," Kuntz said. "He's traveled the country giving people hope and saving lives."

Once DeShaw, who is from Plentywood, took the stage at Memorial Park, he credited Kuntz with assisting him when he was in need. 

"Matt Kuntz has helped me saved my life," he said. His friend encouraged him when he had all but given up, DeShaw said. 

Being able to perform in front of the walkers from across the state on a sunny Sunday afternoon, "it's hard not to have hope," he added. 

DeShaw lead the crowd in singing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." He also sang "This Land is Your Land." 

One of the purposes of the annual NAMI Walk is to help rid the stigma of mental illness. This year marked the 14th such event in Helena. 

"Get into treatment early don't be afraid of going to see somebody," said Curt Chisholm, who served as master of ceremonies. 

NAMI Montana's work includes supporting, educating and advocating for residents with serious mental illness and the families impacted. Members of the organization help start local support groups, testify to law makers, assist in linking community resources and promote research. 

One of the walk's organizers, Pete Aspinwall, thanked all of the event's volunteers. 

"I think we're making great strides. It gets better and better every year," he said. 

The walk serves as the main fundraiser for NAMI Montana. Donations can still be made at www.namiwalks.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donate.event&eventID=654.

"Whether the lights stay on is always answered on this day," Kuntz said, while looking out into the crowd right before the 5-kilometer walk began. 

He was thankful for the community's response.

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