Walking for Hope and Change

More than 200 people raised over $30,000 in the 11th Annual Greater Ithaca Out of the Darkness Walk on September 9 organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Greater Central New York Chapter.

2023 Out of the Darkness Walk at Myers Park

The walk, which took place in Meyers Park in Lansing on the edge of Cayuga Lake, is among 400 held across the country every year designed to raise awareness and collect funds for research, training, and programming.

This year’s Greater Ithaca walk was held during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Walkers included many people who lost a loved one, friend, or colleague to suicide.

L³ Lisa’s Lagomorph Legion was the top fundraising team this year, collecting $6,285. Team Hope brought in $3,507; Jack’s Pack $2,377; Team 22 $1,150; and CFCU Standing with Stacy $1,110.

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“Our mission, to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide, would not be possible without each of you,” Crystal Howser, the walk chair, said in remarks kicking off the event.

Howser said that she volunteers with AFSP to remember and honor the memory of her father, Jerry Howser, and the many others who lost their battle to depression and other mental illnesses. 

“We strive to be a source of strength for our community and let everyone know they are not alone,” she added. “On this journey, strangers turn into friends and friends turn into family as we connect with one another and navigate through our grief. Together, we are strong. Together, we are making a difference.”

AFSP’s Cheyanne Scholl, Crystal Howser, and Karen Heisig

Dave Ashton, morning host on Ithaca’s WYXL-FM, said that suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States and can no longer be swept under the rug.

“By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health. You are sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. Suicide is a health issue that affects all of us,” he said.

Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, a mental health advocacy organization in Ithaca, said that the most recent statistics indicate a 5 percent increase in the national suicide rate in 2021 and 2.6 percent increase in 2022.

But he cited contributions to greater local suicide prevention efforts, by AFSP as well as the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, Cayuga Health System, and others. He said that medical providers are working toward implementing the Zero Suicide Model, a quality improvement program designed to more effectively identify at-risk individuals and close gaps in in their care management.

The 2023 walk was sponsored by:

CFCU Community Credit Union; The Strebel Planning Group’s Fund for Community Enrichment; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Maguire Automotive; Borgwarner; Pizza and Bones; Lansing Funeral Home; Ithaca Beer Company; Texas Roadhouse; Moore Family Farm; Cayuga Health System; Visions Federal Credit Union; Lansing Redemption Center; Cayuga Lake National Bank; Tioga State Bank Foundation; Ithaca Apartment Management/Solomon Organization; Antlers Restaurant; GreenStar Food Co+op.