EATON — The seventh annual Walk to Remember, Walk for Hope suicide awareness and prevention 5K was a success. According to Executive Director Amy Raynes of the Preble County Mental Health and Recovery Board, the amount of money raised remains steady, year to year.
The 2017 Walk to Remember, Walk for Hope was held on Saturday, Sept. 9, at Seven Mile Park in Eaton. The annual walk is dedicated to those in the community who have been lost to suicide and to raising awareness about suicide and mental illness.
Luminaries were available for purchase and decorated the walk.
Raynes explained, “The luminaries are bags that have little lights in them and the families can purchase them and write the name of their loved ones on the bags. When they walk through the woods they can distribute them where they want – some even distribute them along the path.”
As for why this walk was started seven years ago, Michelle Gebhart of Gebhart Counseling Solutions, LLC explained, “It started with Terri Hundley, who was a senior at National Trail, and as her senior project she focused on suicide prevention. I mentored her with that project and she wanted to do an event and hence the walk was born in 2011.”
Raynes added, all of the funds raised from the walk go toward the Preble County Suicide Coalition to fund prevention and education about suicide for the five Preble County schools.
“We have a pretty good turn out every year. The fund raising part of it has been stable across the years, even if we do see a decline in the number of walkers. We had a good registration this year. Normally we have people show up and register in addition to the pre-registration,” Raynes said.
“We continue to see suicide be a problem,” she added. “I’m not sure how many we’ve had this year. I don’t think we had any young people, but we had a few adults commit suicide. It is very sad for the families. This walk gives them a chance to honor their family members through the luminaries they can purchase and set out in the woods. It also helps them, knowing that they’re raising money to help prevent suicide.”
Preble County resident Nikki and her daughter Larissa came out to the walk for that reason. While Larissa was at the walk to support her mother, Nikki was walking in memory of her best friend.
“I’ve done suicide prevention walks in the past, but now, since my best friend passed away this year, it is more special,” she said. “This walk is a way to remember her. It helps us know that there are people out there who care.”
However, it’s not just family members and friends who come out to support suicide prevention.
“We have all kinds of community members who come out. We have our board who comes out to support. Then we have various community members — not all of them are family members of those who have been lost to suicide,” Raynes said.
While friends Amanda Bowers, Tina Johnson, and Amanda Lee have been touched by suicide, they did not come out to the walk to represent any particular person. Lee said, “It sounded like a good cause and a good way to get together and talk without being interrupted.”
Johnson added, “I think an event like this brings people together and shows support with people who have dealt with suicide and are having challenges. It is a silent way to show support and help bring awareness to this need in the community.”
Before the walk began, Gebhart took a second to address the crowd.
“My passion is working with our youth in Preble County. Myself and my team have focused on doing suicide prevention for 11 years now,” she said. “We provide education and awareness to all students grades six through 12. It is because of your support that we have also been able to train high school students. The students that we have trained, their passion carries the message of suicide prevention through the schools.
“It allows us to get to kids quicker and treat them quicker,” she continued. “It allows them to try to prevent suicide, which is our ultimate goal. We do suicide prevention in all five middle school and four of the high schools in our county. As a result of that, our statistics have continued to remain steady or decline.
“We have gone from 27 percent of our students who have tested as at risk for depression to 19 percent. We have gone from 13 percent of our students who think about suicide seriously to eight percent. We have gone from six percent of our students who have attempted suicide to four percent.”
“It is because of your support,” Gebhart said. “Whether you are here walking for someone in your family, friends, or here to spread awareness and hope — I appreciate your attendance. I do want to acknowledge Sandy and Steve Favorite who have a personal connection with suicide. They have graciously donated $1,400, for which we can’t thank you enough. That allows us to increase knowledge and awareness.”
At press time the total of the funds raised was not available.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH