A Walk to Remember

Xiao Dai/New University

The annual Orange County Out of the Darkness community walk to prevent suicide occurred this Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Bill Barber Memorial Park at the community center in Irvine on the corner of Harvard and Barranca.

Hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the event brought together several support groups from within the local community and was patronized by about 400 walkers, many of whom have had to endure the suicide of a close friend or family member.

Irvine’s Mayor Suhkee Kang spoke at the opening of the walk.

“We need to educate this community and share our love and care for i’s families,” she said, “Your presence this morning means a great deal for the well-being of this community. Let’s work together to address the issue so we can educate people and spread awareness.”

At the conclusion of the mayor’s speech, a group of cheerleaders from Mission Viejo led the walk around the Community Center. Passing cars honked at the attendants to show their support of the marchers, called the “survivors” of suicide, who each wore color-coded bead necklaces to advertise their loss. Those who had lost a parent wore gold necklaces, while people who had lost friends or relatives wore purple. Others wore blue or green to indicate that they had themselves struggled with thoughts of suicide or merely supported the cause of suicide awareness.

Few people marched alone that day. Groups of marchers sharing the same loss wore matching T-shirts to advertise who they were marching for. A Placentia woman named Sandy diGiovanni brought 10 family members and friends in memoriam of her nephew Drew diGiovanni who had ended his own life the previous July. He was 16 years old.

“When we found out about this, we signed up right away,” said diGiovanni, “This is a great organization to bring people out of the darkness, that tells them there’s always someone to talk to. A lot of people who want to commit suicide are in such a dark place that they don’t know how to get out. I want to walk for awareness so that everyone knows there’s a way out.”

At the epicenter of the march, several booths were set up by other organizations who were in support of suicide awareness and prevention. Members of TAPS, the support group for family members of dead military men and women, distributed fliers about the dangers of PTSD while two faith-based mental-illness ministries advertised the services their groups could provide.

The event was hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), a national non-profit which employs several UCI students. Christine Thrasher, a fourth-year global cultures and German double major and Alex Uzdavines, a graduate student in Demographic and Social Analysis, helped to organize the event and registered late arrivals to the march. Both are involved in suicide awareness and prevention campaigns on campus and are also members of larger community groups.

“I got involved in my junior year through my minor in civic community engagement,” Thrasher said. “I had to do some service hours for a class I was taking and I found out about AFSP from a booth on campus. I decided to volunteer with them because my family has a pretty long history of mental illness.”

“I was a peer educator for the counseling center for a year, and I was a coordinator for the program for the following,” explained Uzdavines.

After the walk, an organizer from the AFSP spoke to the crowd about the importance of suicide prevention awareness. At the event, the foundation accepted donations for their campaign in order to lobby Congress to devote more federal funding toward suicide prevention initiatives. There was also a raffle for prizes. One woman won a Starbucks gift basket and another won a three-day Carnival cruise.

The AFSP will be hosting a Survivors of Suicide Day event this November on campus at UC Irvine.