La Salle County’s Out of Darkness suicide prevention walk brought a community together Saturday both emotionally and physically.
Ashton Blumenthal, 21, of Ottawa, walked through a large crowd with a sign designating themselves with donation team “Northern Lights” and a colorfully written “Free Hugs” on the back.
“A couple of people (have accepted the hugs),” Blumenthal said. “Everyone deserves to feel loved.”
The "Northern Lights" group was created by Cassidy Downey and was one of 40 created to raise money for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Blumenthal’s neck was covered in a variety of different beads with a mix of hues, each with a different meaning behind the color.
The teal beads represented support of another who has struggled with or attempted suicide, the dark blue beads represented general support for suicide prevention, the purple beads represented the loss of a relative or friend and the green represented a personal struggle.
Blumenthal acknowledged that thoughts about love from family and friends help him through the more difficult moments, as do events like the one held in Ottawa on Saturday.
“It’s very important to spread awareness because there’s still a lot of wrong assumptions about suicidal attempts. It’s more common than people assume which is not good,” Blumenthal said. “I do think events like this where everyone is much happier than where everyone is sad is a good thing because we’re celebrating life and it’s showing that life is so much happier than sometimes you feel it can be.”
He also finds support in talking about it with others and encourages others to do the same.
“I encourage (others) to talk about it because I feel like if I talk about it, it gives it less power over me and I think that’s really important to not let it take control,” Blumenthal said.
That’s one of the many reasons that Chairperson Alexis Ferracuti finds the event special and it’s clearly catching on in the community as well.
The event reached its goal of raising $40,000 for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention before the event even began and the number of participants continued to climb near 400, a new record, near the start of the event.
Becky Kane and her daughter Lexi placed two photos on the “Why I Walk” wall that memorialized those that died by suicide.
Becky said the photos were of her brother Jake Bradley who died in November 2016 and her father Gary Bradley who died last October.
The pair also ran in the “Run Today for Tomorrow” walk/run in June supporting the same organization.
“I think it’s really nice to bring the community together and bring awareness to suicide because I feel like it's out there more than it ever was before,” Becky said.
She added it also brings the issue to the forefront of people's minds and alerts them to warning signs or encourages discussion.
“When somebody says the negative thoughts about suicide, I know sometimes you like to think ‘They’re (just) young’ but my brother was very young, he was 21 when he committed suicide. He had talked about it and I don’t know if he was taken seriously so it’s something you should really take more seriously with young kids.”
Carol Bish was another attendee with a similar story and white beads, representing the loss of a child. Her team name was “Team Excision" and a $4,080 donation.
The name came from a popular DJ that her son Luke Bish used to listen to. He died by suicide in December after a long struggle.
Carol said she hopes events like this change the “stigma.”
“Hopefully people don’t think about ending their life that way. There’s hope, they just need to find help and just be educated.”
Ferracuti took notice that many in the crowd shared the same colored beads and thus shared life experiences, noting suicide affects everyone in different ways. She herself thinks about the loss of a friend.
Ferracuti said through raising money for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention the community can understand the issue more and bring much needed mental health resources to the area.
It also serves as a reminder to all.
“You are not alone. You are never alone. And in this community, I promise you I will never let you be alone,” she said to the crowd. “We will continue to advocate, we will continue to fight and we will continue to get resources for this community because I will not allow us to ignore the symptoms anymore, to push them into a closet, to not recognize them when we see them.”
Help for anyone considering suicide is available by calling 800-273-8255 or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.