Nearly 300 people participated in the second annual Berkshire County Out of the Darkness Walk, held on Saturday, Sept. 10. Hosted by the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the walk took place along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.
The walk is designed to raise funds and awareness about the foundation's local and national education and advocacy programs and its goal to reduce the annual rate of suicide deaths by 20 percent by 2025.
This year's walk far surpassed its fundraising goal of $30,000, raising approximately $37,000 to date, and is inching closer to $40,000 as donations continue to come in. Donations to the walk and to individual walkers can be made until Dec. 31 online at afsp.org/BerkshireCounty.
In honor of the walk, both North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer issued proclamations recognizing Sept. 10 as World Suicide Prevention Day. The Berkshire Out of the Darkness Walk was one of more than 400 Out of the Darkness Community Walks being held nationwide this year. The walks are expected to unite more than 250,000 walkers and raise millions for suicide prevention efforts.
AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia said, "The research has shown us how to fight suicide, and if we keep up the fight the science is only going to get better, our culture will get smarter about mental health, and we'll be able to save more people from dying from depression and other mental health conditions."
In addition to the walk, local participants had a chance to reflect on loved ones lost and the lives saved through prevention efforts by tying ribbons to a Remembrance Tree along the trail as part of a worldwide ribbon campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day. Different colors signified different relationships to a loved one affected by suicide.
Bertha Connelley and Lee Watroba, volunteer co-chairs of this year's walk, said they felt the walk was a huge success.
"It was moving, inspiring, and a very important day for raising money and awareness about suicide prevention," Watroba said.
The walk was supported by Gold Level Sponsors, the Austen Riggs Center and the Brien Center and Bronze sponsor, Gould Farm. The Berkshire Mall, Berkshire Mountain Bakery, and Berkshire Health Systems also made in-kind donations of much needed supplies and materials, and food and beverages for walk participants.
Planning for next year's Berkshire County Out of the Darkness Walk to Fight Suicide will soon begin. If you are interested in learning more and getting involved, contact AFSP Area Director Heather White at 413-387- 3770 or Hwhite@afsp.rog.
Outreach to orphans grows
Sheffield couple John and Libby Moritz, founders of Hearts of the Father Outreach, have announced with its supporters the launch of a new endowment to support the ministry's outreach to orphaned and abandoned children.
The organization held its 10th annual benefit "Tournament for the Orphans," a golf and dining event, on Friday, Sept. 16, at the Wyantenuck Country Club in Great Barrington. Now in its 21st year, the Hearts of the Father Outreach founders shared memorable stories with the assembled audience about their travels throughout the world to rescue orphans, abandoned and marginalized children. It primarily supports children in Ghana, Uganda, India, and Mexico.
The couple founded Hearts of the Father Outreach in 1995, in memory of their three children — Joshua, 11, Kristen, 9, and Daniel, 8 — whose lives were taken in Lee car crash on Jan. 9, 1992.
During the Sept. 16 benefit, the organization's leaders announced the formation of Tikkun Olam Foundation International, which will serve as a charitable foundation for the physical and educational support of orphaned, abandoned and marginalized children, and in so doing will function as an endowment for Hearts of the Father Outreach. The board of the endowment will consist of John and Libby Moritz, John Vaneria of Stockbridge and Eugene Graf of Great Barrington.
Learn more at heartsofthefather.org/donate or call 413-229-2922.