NORTH BEND — Community members Saturday gathered closely, embraced one another and shared their stories of lost loved ones at the opening ceremony of the first ever Coos County “Out of the Darkness” Community Walk.
Kurt Rossbach with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Roseburg wears beads to represent relationships with people who have died by suicide …
The event, which was held at Ferry Road Park, assembled teams and individuals to join in a 3-mile walk around the park to raise awareness on suicide and its prevention in the county. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) hosted the event with the help of local advocates Kristi Stocker and Lisa Hendricks.
About 290 people attended the inaugural walk and 20 teams registered, all of which raised over $11,000 for AFSP, which will be used for research, education and support services for all those affected by suicide. Oregon area director of AFSP Ryan Price said the mission of the foundation is to help save lives and does so by advocating for public policy changes and bringing people together to help one another to create a larger sense of community; to know they are not alone.
“The walk gives people the opportunity to connect with each other in a public space where it’s sort of safer to talk about,” said Price. “It empowers people to talk about their lost loved ones in a way that’s helpful and it also encourages other people to seek help.”
At the start of the day, walkers were able to pick up honor beads which were colored necklaces that represented either a loved one that is struggling with a mental illness or has lost their lives to suicide. The bead’s color each signaled a different relationship from those losing parents to spouses to children.
Stocker led the group in holding their beads up high to honor those family members and friends for a moment of remembrance. The participants then lined up and began their walk.
“I lost my son in January of last year and he was only 20 years old,” said Stocker. “I wanted to do this walk to try to help other people so they don’t have to go through what I go through and give people support.”
In attendance were resource booths from Coos Health and Wellness, Advance Health and the Roseburg VA Health Care System, that handed out information about identifying signs of suicide risk and where they could seek local assistance to get help.
A portrait of Tucker Sherman hangs near a memorial Saturday during an Out of the Darkness Walk to raise money for the American Foundation for …
Advance Health chief transmission officer Lisa Hendricks, a member of the Suicide Prevention Committee in the county, said it’s been working on ways to address the challenges the community faces around suicide. In the most recent Coos County Community Health Improvement Plan (2015-2020), it stated from 2009 to 2011, there were 142 suicide-related hospitalizations in the area. It also goes on to include the county has exceeded the state in rates of youths who show psychological distress.
Organizers of the walk encouraged attendees to continue moving forward with their efforts to discuss and educate those around them on suicide prevention. Stocker said she knows it’s a hard topic to talk about, but she want’s people to begin to open up more.
“I hope this makes people more comfortable and able to have those conversations,” said Stocker. “It’s important to let people know they are not alone.”
According to Hendricks, donations are still being accepted until the end of the year. For more information about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Coos County Walk or how to donate you can visit, https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.event&eventID=5537.