Richmond's Out of the Darkness Walk, which promotes suicide awareness, is being co-hosted by a University of Richmond student this year.
Several UR student organizations are also involved with fundraising for and participating in the walk, which will take place on Oct. 14 at Deep Run Park. The Out of the Darkness Walk is a national event sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Alexis Szepesy, junior, is co-hosting the walk in Richmond after interning with the AFSP last year to fulfill a part of her WILL* requirements, she said. The issue of suicide prevention is personal to Szepesy, whose father committed suicide in 2015. Last year, while working in experimental therapeutics for people with schizophrenia at Columbia University, two of her patients also committed suicide.
“I’ve seen the impact on different levels, and I really wanted to get more involved in figuring out a way to advocate for suicide prevention,” Szepesy said.
While interning at ASFP, Szepesy was involved with giving "Talk Saves Lives" presentations on suicide prevention to LGBT groups. Her boss, Shirley Ramsey, offered her the position of co-chair for this year’s eighth annual Out of the Darkness Walk, she said. Her job entails getting vendors for the walk, fundraising and signing people up, she said.
Szepesy interned with another UR student, Joe Palminteri, junior, at AFSP over the summer. Palminteri went on to encourage his fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, to get involved with the organization.
Lambda Chi had already started promoting suicide awareness last semester by selling wristbands, raising over $500 for Bon Secours St. Mary’s hospital, which provides mental health services.
“This is one thing that’s really passionate for a lot of our members and something we really hold dear to us,” Lambda Chi’s chapter president Tyler Deen, senior, said. “So we were like, let’s try to make this an annual thing.”
The fraternity decided to get involved with this year’s walk as a result. It had a team for the walk and its members plan on helping set up for the event on the day before, while also using word of mouth and social media to fundraise for the walk.
Lambda Chi also currently plans on potentially having Ramsey come as a speaker to promote suicide awareness, Deen said, and would like it to be a Standards of Excellence (SOE) event for fraternities.
“I think that this is something you can never raise enough awareness about, so I definitely think we’ll have to do something in the spring for it,” Deen said.
Szepesy and Palminteri are also coordinating together to bring the Out of the Darkness Walk on campus for the first time in the spring semester, Szepesy said. This would be following AFSP guidelines that call for hosting a community walk in the fall, a campus walk in the spring and an overnight walk in the summer.
Other student organizations helped promote the walk and encouraged fundraising. Kristen Day, a counselor for Counseling and Psychological Services, was looking at the Out of the Darkness website and noticed it was being co-chaired by a UR student and decided to reach out to her to offer support, Day said.
Julia Selman, senior, a CAPS intern, took on the project of fundraising on campus. She organized tabling in the commons throughout the past week, she said, and hosted her "Give Five, Take Five" fundraising event on Friday.
With the help of the Wellness Bandits and Oliver Hill Scholars, CAPS interns had a table in the Forum where they gave out doughnuts, high fives and honor beads, which are beads that come in different colors to represent one’s relationship to suicide.
The walk will take place during UR’s fall break. However, Lambda Chi’s team and Szepesy’s team, Stomp the Stigma, which consists of several UR students, will be there. For UR students interested in attending, transportation services will provide shuttles to Deep Run Park.
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