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‘Out of the Darkness’ walk raises awareness

By Staff | Oct 20, 2017

Chronicle photo by Vanessa McGuigan Participants representing loss of a son, aunt, brother, husband, fathers, as well as attempted suicide and support for mental health awareness stand for the honor bead ceremony at last Saturday’s event.

Meagan Rodriguez lost her fiance to suicide nine years ago. Three months after she married her current husband, her mother-in-law took her own life. The issue of suicide awareness and prevention is critically important to her family, which is why they chose to join over 150 others to participate in the annual Out of Darkness Walk, which was held Saturday in Shepherdstown.

“What they do here is really great,” Rodriguez said. “I think bringing everyone together and showing that are people out there that understand what you went through, showing their support-having something like this to go to-I think that’s awesome.”

This year marks the third year for the walk. Walk coordinator, Keira Cale said she was impressed with how much the walk has grown in just three years.

“When I started as a volunteer it was a pretty small group in Rumsey Park and now we have the ability to shut down N. King Street,” Cale said.

The Out of the Darkness community walks are sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and take place in all 50 states to raise awareness and money for suicide prevention programs, and to unite those who have been affected by suicide. One of their goals is to create communities that are smart about mental health, but they also help fund research into genetic, biological and behavioral factors that could lead to suicide.

An important part of the walk is the various colored beads, called “honor beads” that people wear to signify their connection to the cause. Everyone dons a set of blue beads to show support for suicide prevention, but they then can choose other beads, each color representing loss of particular relationships, such as a child, parent, spouse or sibling. Other beads indicated an attempted suicide or support of mental health awareness.

During the opening ceremony, a person from each bead color category stood in front of the crowd while Michelle Toman, founder of the West Virginia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention read each person’s story of why they were there.

“The beads are like wearing a name tag without wearing a name tag. It’s like telling a story without having to say it out loud for those who can’t,” Toman said.

Toman continued, “For many, tonight’s Out of the Darkness Community Walk will be a journey of remembrance; a time to acknowledge the ways in which suicide, depression, addiction and mental illness have affected our lives and our loved ones.”

After the opening ceremony, the crowd walked from King Street to Rumsey Park to plant a tree that was donated by Mark Everhart and Christie Ence.

“My committee and I thought it was time to leave a mark in the Sheperdstown community to make the statement and the promise that there is hope and that there is life, and that it does get better and you’re never alone,” Cale said.

The event closed with participants returning to King St. for a luminaria ceremony and closing remarks.