Several survivors, family members and friends gathered at E.J. Mansell Stadium for the 10th annual Suicide Walk for Prevention and Awareness Sunday.
The walk, hosted by the Clearfield Jefferson Suicide Prevention Team, featured 22 teams and 23 resource tables, said CJSPT Coordinator Mary Brown.
The funds raised through the walk help the CJSPT promote awareness and prevention through trainings and workshops, education and lending a helping hand.
Smithtown Community Church Pastor Harold Hills helped kick the program off with prayer, and the Lakeshore Singers Group sang tunes like “Please Stay.”
Brown spoke about everything the CJSPT is involved in locally, and the opportunities for people to be involved in its cause.
The event’s keynote speaker was Jeff Yalden, a leading authority on teen motivation, and a recognized expert on school communities and mental-health awareness, suicide crisis intervention and suicide prevention in teens.
Yaiden’s speech in the bleachers of E.J. Mansell Stadium started with him telling the story of a heartbreaking divorce he went through years ago. He also talked about how it was always difficult for him to look in the mirror, and easy to blame problems on other people. Ultimately, though, he circled back to himself, his mental illness and made steps to better his life.
Yaiden spoke about the importance of people knowing that “It’s okay not to be okay,” and giving people a “safe place” to talk.
Yaiden will speak at several schools this week, including DuBois Area High School Monday. He will spend a lot of time, he says, on the issues that young people face regularly and may not talk about, such as stress, anxiety and the inability to cope with things in a healthy way.
“Young people need to understand — stop, breathe, take it one day at a time,” he said. “They need not feel like they’re going to be judged if they’re going to someone to ask for help.”
Denise Smith said it’s been 16 years since she lost her son, John Haag Jr., to suicide. She and several others now wear “Johnny’s Walk for Life” blue T-shirts and walk around the track in his memory.
Tom White said he has participated in the Walk for Suicide Prevention and Awareness for 10 years now, sporting purple hair and carrying purple balloons Sunday. The event has a special place in his heart, since he lost close friend DeAlva Luther Miller Jr. in 2009.
White said he and Miller enjoyed years of traveling together. He was angry about his death at first, and now focuses on the positive things in life.
Clearfield County Commissioner John Sobel and Jefferson County Commissioner John Jack Matson declared Sunday, Sept. 8 as Suicide Prevention Day, and September Suicide Prevention Month.
Family members and friends remembered loved ones they lost to suicide through different-colored remembrance beads, painted “rocks of hope,” and a memory wall.