Update on 10/14: Due to expected stormy weather, the Out of the Darkness walk has been postponed. A new date has not yet been decided, but coordinators say there will be an event in Everett.
EVERETT — An Out of the Darkness walk, part of a national effort to raise money for suicide prevention and research, is scheduled Saturday at American Legion Memorial Park.
More than 380 people have signed up to participate.
This is the first time the event has been planned in Snohomish County. It’s one of at least 350 walks nationwide and is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Groups from around the county are participating, including the Everett High Seagulls Fighting Stigma, the Mukilteo Youth Coalition, Mukilteo Strong and a Miss Aquafest team.
Susan Solemsaas, of Marysville, has set a goal of raising $1,000 in memory of her son, Alex Koch, 18, who took his life April 22.
The 20-member team includes Alex’s dad, Jeff Koch, and Alex’s girlfriend, Briana Johnson, of Marysville. Solemsaas’ mother is coming from Kalispell, Montana, and her sister from Minot, North Dakota, to walk with them.
Alex Koch would often spend the summer at the family’s cabin near Glacier National Park in Montana, his mom said. In the winter, he loved to snowboard and would fly to Montana to hit the slopes with his grandmother, she said.
The family is installing a memorial bench for him in Marysville’s Jennings Park, where he used to play as a child.
Rena Fitzgerald, who manages Volunteers of America’s confidential online chat line, imhurting.org, started working to bring the walk to Snohomish County following a spike in suicides among 12- to 19-year-olds, rising from five deaths in 2014 to a dozen in 2015. Marysville, Stanwood and Mukilteo saw suicide “clusters,” with the deaths of four Kamiak High School students, three Stanwood High School students and five Marysville teens.
Participants can register for the walk online until Friday or in person Saturday morning. There’s no cost to participate and donations can be made in any amount.
Fitzgerald said organizers are preparing for the wind and rain that’s predicted for Saturday, but “the plan is that it’s going to happen,” she said. Ponchos will be available for sale. Walkers can end their trek early if they wish, she said.
Saturday’s event begins with a bead ceremony. Everyone will be asked to take a strand of beads representing their loss. There are nine colors, including white for a child, red for a spouse, orange for a sibling, purple for a friend, and blue to show support for those who have lost someone, Fitzgerald said. Color by color, participants will hold up the strands of beads and put them on. It’s a way for walkers to see their shared experiences.
“I will probably have three strands, and other people I know will have five,” Fitzgerald said. “Some will just have blue.”
The bead ceremony and the 3.3-mile walk that follows give people who have felt isolated by their loss a sense of community, she said. It’s hard in a group setting to talk about suicide “and not have people react in ways that make you feel like you shouldn’t have mentioned it.” The walk creates a safe space for those conversations, she said.
The fundraising goal was set at $20,000. By Wednesday, they’d surpassed that goal with pledges of $22,470.
“I’m personally amazed because it’s our first walk,” Fitzgerald said. “This year is our learning year.” She hopes to make the walk an annual event in Snohomish County.
Out of the Darkness walks are the largest fundraising effort by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The money is used for research and education about mood disorders and suicide prevention; educational programs for professionals such as teachers and counselors; lobbying for legislation focused on mental health; and providing resources for people who struggle with suicidal thoughts or have lost a loved one to suicide.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.
The Out of the Darkness Walk is scheduled to start at 10 a.m Saturday at American Legion Memorial Park, 145 Alverson Blvd. in Everett. Registration is at 9 a.m. For more information, call 425-212-5312 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Register for the event online at afsp.donordrive.com/ communitywalks. Select “Find a Walk.”