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Stronger With Each Step: Race raises money for suicide prevention

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Sep 11, 2020

Competitors in this file photo from the 2019 Freedom's Run race down German Street. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — About 60 people participated in the Brian O’Neill Jr. Foundation’s first annual Stronger With Each Step 5K on Saturday morning.

The race was held virtually, allowing participants to run the race route, from the Shepherdstown Public Library to Trough Road.

“It definitely was a challenge with the COVID stuff going on,” said organizer Lee O’Neill, mentioning a number of her volunteers backed out, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. “A couple of weeks ago, we made the decision to do the race virtual.”

Race participants all received a completion medal and tee-shirt in the mail, since they were not running the route at the same time. Proceeds from the race ticket prices went to supporting the Brian O’Neill Jr. Foundation’s suicide prevention programs.

According to O’Neill, the one-year-old nonprofit foundation was established in memory of her son, Brian, who had been living on Princess Street at the time of his death on Sept. 11, 2018. His suicide, O’Neill indicated, shocked his entire family. As a social worker of 28 years, O’Neill felt driven to prevent a similar tragedy from happening to other local families.


“I felt compelled to do something in his name, to turn a tragedy into a positive,” O’Neill said. “I started it, because I really wanted to start promoting an empowering and strength-based program in the area.”

One of the programs the organization is currently involved with, is the school suicide prevention program, Sources of Strength.

“Along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, with the West Virginia chapter, they helped us bring the peer-led suicide prevention program that focuses on strength-based messaging to Musselman High School,” O’Neill said, mentioning the program will be returning to the school again this year, within COVID-19 social distancing parameters.

According to O’Neill, Musselman High School was chosen as the location for the first local Sources of Strength location, as it was the school her son and his three siblings attended. His youngest sibling was able to participate in the program last year, as one of about 30 student participants. O’Neill said she hopes to raise enough funding to open the program in the other high schools and middle schools in the Eastern Panhandle.

The other program the foundation is working on offering locally, is the safeTALK suicide prevention training program.

“The safeTALK workshops that I’m going to be able to provide are going to be for everyone in the community,” O’Neill said, mentioning she is currently in the process of completing training to offer the program. “I’m going to be meeting with two other trainers and we’re going to be coming together with dates and things like that where we’re going to be offering it to the community.”

The workshops the foundation sets up will be free to the public, and count as Continuing Education Units, according to O’Neill. Businesses will also be able to hire O’Neill to lead the workshops for their employees, the proceeds from which will be donated to the foundation.

As for the 5K fundraiser, O’Neill said she anticipates holding it again next year, when it will hopefully draw a larger crowd due to its no longer being restricted to a virtual format.

“The reason we were doing the 5K this month, is, one, because my son passed away during this month, but also because this month is Suicide Prevention Month. September 10 is Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day,” O’Neill said. “I was hoping the name of the race, Stronger With Each Step, would inspire others to feel stronger when they are doing this race, regardless of whatever they are struggling with.”

To learn more, visit https://www.brianoneilljrfoundation.org/.