OLEAN — Fittingly, the sun came out to shine late Sunday morning just in time for the seventh annual Out of the Darkness Walk.
Hosted by the Cattaraugus County Suicide Prevention Coalition this year, the event center at Good Times of Olean was crowded with people.
“Registrations are going really well,” said Kami Green, with Kohl’s Cares volunteer program, who was registering walkers in the Good Times of Olean event center about an hour before the walk began.
According to Suzanne Piechota, who was chair of the event for the past three years, the inaugural walk in 2013 raised $7,000 with 100 supporters walking the track at Olean High School in pouring rain. They had donations for a raffle for 10 baskets.
Just six years later 310 walkers attended, raising almost $28,000.
Jan Rees of Shinglehouse, Pa. was one of those making a donation to the coalition before she walked with her sister and brother-in-law.
“I feel it’s a very important cause,” Rees said, “We have a friend who lost a brother,” who they have been walking in memory of for three years.
Most walkers were wearing T-shirts bearing the names and/or pictures of loved ones, or slogans supporting those who struggle or who loved and lost.
This year, walkers had the opportunity to get a T-shirt custom-made on-site. Imprintable Solutions, Ink. is a Rochester-based business who has supported events across New York state, including Jamestown’s Oct. 5.
Some walkers brought a photo or emailed a digital picture from their smart phone while waiting in the event center for the walk to begin, and had it printed right there in time to wear it in the walk.
Samantha Kenjockety and Tommielynn Childs, both of Olean, were choosing the T-shirt pattern they wanted for the walk.
“I’m here because I’ve struggled with suicide all my life,” explained Kenjockety, saying it helped to be around so many people (who have suffered from, or struggle with suicide).
Colors were significant and meaningful at the walk, as they denoted what the relationship was for the individual(s) they were walking in memory or support of. T-Shirt were purple signifying the loss of a relative or friend; green to show a personal struggle or attempt; and white for the loss of a child; and six more designations. Some shirts were the favorite color of those lost.
Donations were raised by volunteers for 91 baskets which were raffled off for the organization.
It took about 30 volunteers at the event to handle registration; sell basket and 50/50 raffle tickets; hand out memory beads; operate the video programming for family members and sell American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSB) merchandise.
“The coalition is really trying to bring awareness of suicide prevention and partnering with AFSB with the walk helps us to reach that mission,” said Amy Mann, director of the coalition.
For more information, visit the Facebook page for the Cattaraugus County Suicide Prevention Coalition or AFSB.
The annual event is part of a national effort, where hundreds of thousands of people walk in order to raise funds that go to support the research, education, advocacy, and support programs of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce the suicide rate 20% by 2025.