State College

Hundreds walk to bring suicide out of darkness

The Color Guard leads Out of the Darkness walkers up Fraser Street from Sidney Friedman Park on Sunday in State College.
The Color Guard leads Out of the Darkness walkers up Fraser Street from Sidney Friedman Park on Sunday in State College. knetzer@centredaily.com

We walk because we care.

Those five words sum up the pain, struggle and support of those affected by suicide, and the reason hundreds gathered Sunday in Sidney Friedman Park in downtown State College for the 10th annual Out of the Darkness community walk.

Hosted by the the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the 2-mile walk honored loved ones, raised awareness about suicide in the U.S. and supported AFSP’s fundraising efforts.

We lost 1,800 people last year to suicide in Pennsylvania. That’s unacceptable, and we can do something about it.

AFSP Philadelphia Regional Director Pat Gainey

“We lost 1,800 people last year to suicide in Pennsylvania,” AFSP Philadelphia Regional Director Pat Gainey said to the hundreds gathered in the park. “That’s unacceptable, and we can do something about it.”

A person dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes in the U.S., according to the AFSP, totaling 117 a day and 43,000 a year. In Pennsylvania, one person is lost every five hours.

Importantly, Gainey said, the walk is about the funds. The chapter has raised about $400,000 since the first event, walk Chairwoman Shanon Quick said, and 50 percent of the funds raised through the walk will be used locally to support survivors of suicide loss and promote awareness and prevention.

The ultimate goal of the AFSP, Quick said, is to reduce the annual suicide rate in the nation by 20 percent.

Being the 10th anniversary of the walk, several foundation members and survivors were honored. Susan Kennedy, who organized the first walk in State College, was recognized with a new pair of sneakers.

“It started with a phone call,” Kennedy said, “and the tradition continues.”

Additionally, Gainey recognized founding Central Pennsylvania Chapter members Quick, Brenda Fry and Angela Kempf for their work over the years.

Walkers were encouraged to wear colored beads representing how suicide has touched their lives — if the loss was a family member or friend, or if he or she was simply there in support of others. Many walkers additionally wore the names of those they were remembering on their shirts.

County Commissioner Mark Higgins, who appeared with commissioners Michael Pipe and Steve Dershem, wore the names of his brother-in-law David and his father, Edward, on his shirt — both lost to suicide. Higgins said the walk meant a great deal in that it was people willing to come out into public and speak about a stigmatized subject matter.

Nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants to ask for help, the cycle gets worse and you lose someone. And you don’t have to lose anyone.

County Commissioner Mark Higgins

“It has the stigma,” he said. “Nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants to ask for help, the cycle gets worse and you lose someone. And you don’t have to lose anyone.”

Survivor Lonnie Magargle, whose son Andrew took his own life in the borough in December 2013, said this was the third walk he’s participated in. Magargle described his son’s life, attending Penn State, helping with Thon and preparing for life after college, all while dealing with his own battle with depression.

The family thought Andrew had been receiving help through Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services, but learned the day he died that Andrew had never attended a session.

I promise if you make that step one time, you’ll be amazed at all the people out there willing to help you and lend a hand.

Survivor Lonnie Magargle

“For those that need help, I want to urge you to take that first step,” he said, advising to take advantage of counseling or a suicide hotline. “I promise if you make that step one time, you’ll be amazed at all the people out there willing to help you and lend a hand.”

Penn State’s 2016 class gift is an endowment to support CAPS. The Class Gift Campaign attended the event to explain more about the endowment.

Before the walk started, grief counselor Evelyn Wald was welcomed to recite the poem “We Remember Them” by Rabbi Jack Riemer, as she has done every year since the beginning.

“So long as we live, they too live, for they are part of us,” Wald recited the last line, holding back tears. “We remember them.”

While Quick said she didn’t have final numbers, about 800 to 1,000 were estimated to have walked Sunday. More than 8,000 have walked since the first event.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

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