Out of the Darkness Walk exceeds 2016 goals

out of the darkness 2016The Greater Augusta Out of the Darkness Walk returned to Staunton for its second year and brought an increase in participants and fundraising.

The October 8 walk at Gypsy Hill Park registered 714 walkers, a 24 percent increase over last year. The event has raised to date $54,665.76, an increase of 40 percent over last year’s totals. The goal had been $50,000 for the annual walk. Fundraising is ongoing through December 31.

“The idea behind the walk is to bring a subject that many people are afraid to talk about out of the darkness,” said 2016 walk co-chair Kimberly Sours, whose daughter, Keri, died by suicide. “It was a rainy day for sure but it did not dampen the spirits of people who turned out to honor their loved ones and help raise critical funds.”

The community walk benefits the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The organization is dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide.

“It’s remarkable that our community stepped up in such a large way,” said Crystal Graham, 2016 walk co-chair and board member for the Virginia chapter of AFSP. “For a relatively small town, we were one of the top walks in the state in terms of number of walkers and dollars raised.” Graham’s identical twin sister, Christina died by suicide, in 1992.

Participants in this year’s walk took part in an opening ceremony complete with several speakers, a bead ceremony that brought people to stage to share their loss and a ceremony where loved ones who have died by suicide were recognized.

“We all showed up for the fight,” said Sours at the walk. “We put on our sneakers and ponchos and came out to walk – even in the rain.”

Many walk participants and teams raised funds through efforts such as bake sales, cupcake sales, raffles, band fundraisers, restaurant benefit nights and a poker run. E&J’s Deli Pub stepped up to donate 20 percent of food sales every Tuesday in September, October and November to AFSP. Moe’s Southwest Grill also hosted a fund-raising night.

Top individual fundraisers recognized at the walk included Crystal Graham, Chad Layman, Daniel and Cynthia Sweet, Kim Sours, Mark Ham and Debbie Frazier.

“This isn’t a moment, this is a movement,” said Graham. “The is a real movement with real people. Together we will save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.”

The event closed with the reading of the “We Remember Them” poem and a bubble release to the song “Stand by Me.” Participants also made remembrance tiles to take home with them and have a lasting keepsake from the walk.

The event was sponsored in part by Valley Community Services Board, Hermitage Hill Farm & Stables, WHSV-TV3, Harrisonburg Radio Group, The News Leader, Augusta Free Press, Comcast Spotlight, E&J’s Deli Pub, NAMI “We Care” Augusta, Reynolds Hamrick Funeral Homes, First Bank & Trust Company, Hometown Value Magazine, Voo Doo Underground, Hull’s Drive In, First Home Care and Wayne Hills Baptist Church.

“Suicide prevention starts with every day heroes, like you and me,” said Sours. “From walkers to sponsors, we proved that this community is invested in becoming suicide safe, and we look forward to bringing more education to the area so that we are all better prepared to save lives and encourage those around us that seeking help for mental health is a sign of strength.”

Organizers also announced upcoming events which includes an ASIST suicide prevention training on November 10-11 in Staunton and the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day on November 19 in Staunton. The ISOSL Day event will include opening remarks by State Sen. Creigh Deeds, whose son, Gus, died by suicide in 2013.

Graham also announced plans to bring a Survivors of Suicide Loss group back to the area.

“We get more calls about a support group than anything else,” said Graham. “Thanks to funds raised at walks like this one, AFSP is sending two people to training in November so we can meet this critical need in our community.”

For more information on AFSP or to register for upcoming events including the ASIST training or ISOSL Day, visit afsp.org/virginia

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