— Local endeavor seeks to build suicide awareness and support.
This will be the third year that Shepherdstown and its surrounding communities will come together to shed some light on an important issue. The Shepherdstown ‘Out of the Darkness’ walk has been an event rapidly growing over the last two years, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is expecting an even larger turnout this year.
Entering her second year as Walk Coordinator, Keira Cale has been a dedicated advocate for breaking down stigma against mental health. “Out of the Darkness walks serve to not only raise awareness and money for prevention efforts for communities that are affected by suicide, but also provide a supportive and comforting environment for those that have been affected,” she said. “Programs like this provide an outlet for the aftermath of suicide, and they create an atmosphere to connect and support each other.”
The event starts with an opening ceremony featuring invited speakers, including local officials and a vice president of AFSP. A bead ceremony then introduces community members representing different ways in which suicide affects families, those who have lost someone to suicide, and those with a personal struggle with suicide. Individuals, families, and friends walk together through the community with signs to bring awareness to this important issue, and return to a luminaria ceremony to remember those that have been lost. This year’s event will also include a special tree-planting ceremony, serving as a symbol for the community to reflect on the persistent problem.
“This event is appropriately named for bringing the topic of mental health out of the darkness and into the light to foster conversations and hopefully save lives,” explained Cale. “Last year we had a hundred and eighty people attend our walk, and we raised about ten thousand dollars for AFSP. I would love to see our walk grow; this year our goal is fifteen thousand dollars.”
As of September 14th, the chapter has raised over $5,250 and has 64 participants registered, with momentum typically growing in late September through to the walk. The chapter’s biggest sponsors so far have been American Public University and American Military University, with Shepherd University also providing tents, tables, and printing for the event. Funds raised by this event are put back into the community through trainings, information, and awareness campaigns, and even grief support when a tragedy does affect a community.
Teams and individuals wishing to participate can register here or in person at the event, and each team can set a fundraising goal to benefit AFSP. The event begins with registration at 4pm on Saturday, October 14th, on North King Street in Shepherdstown, with the ceremony following from 5-7pm.
“Mental health concerns are not something to be shamed and looked down upon,” added Cale. “They’re just another part of humanity. If we let people know there’s a community that loves and supports them, maybe those in need of help will be less fearful to reach out. Those facing such a tremendous burden should receive as much support as possible. With events like these, and through the strength and support of local communities, hopefully we can emphasize that no one ever has to walk alone.”