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Hundreds offer helping hands at Out of the Darkness Walk

Walkers for the annual Out of the Darkness Walk marched up Washington Avenue holding signs of remembrance and support to raise suicide awareness in the community. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

PARKERSBURG — Over 400 people registered for the 12th annual Out of the Darkness Walk to support the fighters, admire the survivors, honor the taken and prove that they are never giving up on the fight to prevent suicide.

This was a year of firsts for the event, with three firsts all happening Saturday, organizers said.

“For the first year ever, our teams not only reached the $40,000 goal for fundraising, but surpassed it by $9,000 before kickoff,” said Heather McCarter, co-chair of the Out of the Darkness Walk.

Funds raised are distributed to help continue educating people about the signs of suicidal tendencies and the training on how to handle suicidal situations properly, to advocate for the goal of reducing the number of suicides every year and raise awareness on mental illnesses that can have suicidal side-effects.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has as its goal to reduce the number of yearly suicides by 20 percent by 2025, according to Jason Ferrebee, event co-chair and an AFSP board member.

Amanda Early looks through signs to choose one before the walk. She was out supporting the cause and walking in memory of her mother at Saturday’s Out of the Darkness Walk at City Park. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

The walk, which started at City Park, decided this year to take the walk out of the park and into the community.

“This is the first time we are leaving the park with our picket signs,” said McCarter.

Those gathered walked up Washington Avenue and stopped outside Parkersburg High School along Dudley Avenue to raise awareness in the community.

“We all know we support it, but we should be taking it to the community to continue growing support and reducing the stigma around mental illnesses,” said McCarter.

Before the walk, the event organizers held the bead ceremony, sharing the story of an individual for each color in the crowd.

P4 Walkers for the annual Out of the Darkness Walk gathered along Dudley Avenue to raise awareness in the community. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

White beads for loss of a child, red for loss of a spouse or partner, gold for loss of a parent, orange for loss of a sibling, purple for loss of family member or friend, silver for loss of a first responder or military, green for personal struggle or attempted suicide, teal for a family member or friend that struggles with suicide and blue to support suicide prevention

The ceremony and beads are aimed to help those who have suffered a loss or who are struggling to find support from others who have been there.

“I think it’s a great idea for the community to come together to fight against suicide and recognize the struggles people deal with in everyday lives that may cause these types of thoughts and reactions,” said Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens.

Among the 400 registered walkers was the Parkersburg South High School Patriot football team, who according to Coach Nathan Tanner, came out to support the cause and use it as a way to raise awareness of resources available to those struggling in the youth population.

“The more of our youth we get out into the community to learn about how they can help each other through support and other means, the more of a fighting chance our youth will have,” Tanner said.

Stories were shared of a lost or struggling victim in the crowd during the bead ceremony to help those who have suffered a loss or who are struggling to find support from others who have been there. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

After the walk, awards were presented to teams for their hard work in advocacy and fundraising. Following the awards ceremony, this year the event coordinators arranged to release doves for the first time, rather than balloons, in honor of those lost and as a hope for those still fighting.

Madeline Scarborough can be reached at mscarborough@newsandsentinel.com

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