Walk organizers host open house for information on suicide awareness, prevention

IN REMEMBRANCE: Organizers of the Out of the Darkness Community Walk stand next to the memory quilt at Thursday's Suicide Awareness Community Kick-off event. The quilt is on display each year at the annual walk and community members are invited to add photos and information about loved ones lost to suicide. (Pioneer staff photo/Emily Grove-Davis)

IN REMEMBRANCE: Organizers of the Out of the Darkness Community Walk stand next to the memory quilt at Thursday’s Suicide Awareness Community Kick-off event. The quilt is on display each year at the annual walk and community members are invited to add photos and information about loved ones lost to suicide. (Pioneer staff photo/Emily Grove-Davis)

BIG RAPIDS  — Providing an opportunity for discussion, education and sharing stories of loss was the goal of Thursday’s Suicide Awareness Community Kick-off event.

Held at the Big Rapids Department of Public Safety, the open house allowed community members a chance to learn more about suicide prevention, as well as gaining information about the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, a local event to raise awareness about suicide.

This year will be the sixth year for the walk, but this is the first time organizers planned a kickoff meeting, said Michelle Lewis, walk chairperson.

“We wanted to try something new this year,” Lewis said. “We’re here to answer questions, give out resources and even get people signed up for the walk.”

This year’s walk will be on Saturday, Oct. 1, at Northend Riverside Park. Walks held by Out Of The Darkness, a suicide prevention program by the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, helps raise funds for educational programs to increase suicide prevention awareness. Proceeds will equally benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and suicide prevention materials for the local community.

Suicide prevention and awareness is a topic close to Lewis’ heart. After losing her son, Gordon, to suicide in 2010, she began organizing the walks with the help of her mother.

Through the years, Lewis has met many families impacted by the loss of a loved one to suicide. At the kickoff event, she met Vikki Sims, of LeRoy.

Simms lost her son to suicide nearly three years ago. While she had heard about the Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Big Rapids, she has not participated yet and wanted to learn more.

“I came tonight to see what this is all about and I what I can do for others,” Sims said. “I used to write letters to families who lost a child since I was familiar with those feelings.”

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. One of the main things Lewis would like to see is an all-around increase in education about suicide prevention, especially when it comes to children, teens and young adults.

“I don’t think parents are very educated about the topic or know the signs to look for,” she said. “There is just not enough discussion and information on many levels. Teachers and school staff spend so much time with our children so it’s important for them to be aware as well. We all need to be educated about this.”

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Posted by Karin Armbruster

Karin is the reporter for Osceola County’s Herald Review. She is the coordinator of the Health page, which runs in the weekend edition of the Pioneer. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8382 or by e-mail at karmbruster@pioneergroup.com.

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