EATON — On Saturday, Sept. 24, Preble County Mental Health and Recovery Board and Preble County Suicide Coalition hosted its 11th annual Walk to Remember, Walk For Hope 5k Walk/Run.
The walk began and ended at the Eaton High School Wellness Center. Participants walked/ran through Fort St. Clair Park during the event aimed at bringing awareness to suicide prevention. It is also in dedication of the memory of those who have been lost to suicide and aims to show the importance of mental health care.
Whitney Loftis, Operations Administrator for PCMHRB added, “It also helps us raise money for the Hope Squads [an in school based mental health and suicide prevention organization] and our suicide prevention programming.”
Loftis explained in more detail exactly where the money raised by the event goes. “It goes to any activities that they have to do in schools. They have a big Hope Fair in the spring in May to help bring awareness,” she said. “It also goes to help pay for some of their suicide surveys. They survey every student to try to gauge how they’re feeling and if they need to reach out to someone.”
Every high school in the county has a Hope Squad, along with three middle school Hope Squads. It is mainly run by students with an adult advisor who has a therapeutic background. The program has about 90 students involved in the Hope Squads throughout the county, according to officials. The middle school program has 50 to 55 students involved.
Michelle Gebhart, owner of Gebhart Counseling, explained the history of the walk.
“The event started as a senior project for a community youth at the time whose family was affected by suicide,” Gebhart said. “It began just as a walk and probably maybe 50 or 60 individuals came. There was a lot of support for that family and then other families connected and I’ve just seen it grow as far as community involvement in attendance.”
Hope Squad member Emma Gebhart spoke to the crowd at the event and described what the members’ goal is.
“We help bring positivity and spread it throughout the schools,” Emma Gebhart said. “We like to help support people that maybe don’t get the support they need at home, and help those who struggle. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to us, we try and find somebody they are comfortable talking to.”
Keith Carr from Preble County Veteran Services also spoke to the crowd.
“With 9/11 just passed and everything, veteran suicide rates are right around 22 a day — that also includes active duty military,” Carr said. “While I served, I lost one friend to suicide and shortly after I retired I lost another friend who’d just retired. So, it is out there, it affects the families and friends more.”
Carr continued, “It’s easier to reach out before somebody hurts themselves and be proactive, than it is to grieve afterwards.”
Walk to Remember, Walk for Hope has more than 100 people sign up each time the event has been held.
To attend the walk the cost was $20 a person, but anyone who could not afford to pay or just wanted to join the walk could. According to Loftis, it is more important to spread awareness than bring in money from the event.