Known for hosting the Out of the Darkness Walk, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention opted to change the 2020 event to the Out of the Darkness Experience, which will take place Sept. 11 and 12. Although the main event had to be changed due to COVID-19, the goal to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide remains the same.
"It makes my heart so incredibly happy that we can find a way to adapt and still find a way to connect with our supports and our volunteers but also to keep them safe," Samantha Christopherson, the Dakotas area director for the AFSP, said. "This is going to be a really great way to send the message that hope is not canceled and raise a lot of awareness and funds for our mission. Our mission is to save lives and bring hope to those that are affected by suicide."
The fundraising event will have registered supporters come to the Prairie Hills Mall on Friday, Sept. 11, from 6-8 p.m. to sign the hope banner and pick up one of nine differently colored honor beads. Each color represents a different way in which a person was affected by suicide — gold for the loss of a parent, orange for the loss of a friend and blue to show support for the cause. Those that record $150 or higher in donations will receive a fundraiser T-shirt.
On Saturday, Sept. 12, those who missed the first pick-up session, can come to the Prairie Hills Mall from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. The opening ceremony will be streamed on afsp.org/dickinsonnd at 1 p.m. MST. From there, supporters will be encouraged to walk and talk to others about mental health awareness and show off their beads and explain what they mean.
Despite the pandemic, Christopherson said there was no way the event was going to be canceled.
"We don’t cancel events at AFSP, we just find new ways to get out there," she said. "We’ve worked really hard to bring our communities together and telling our communities we are walking for mental health and we are walking for suicide prevention. Of course this year has been a bit challenging, but it’s very important that people know hope is not canceled."
Karen Frank, a Dickinson citizen and helper at the Out of the Darkness Experience, said this event is important to her and her family.
"I lost my son to suicide; he was 28-years-old, I lost him in 2006," Frank said. "This is a project that is very near and dear to my heart."
Christopherson mentioned she too has a personal connection to the project.
"When I walk, I wear gold beads because gold beads symbolize the loss of a parent," she said. "So when I see someone else wearing gold beads, I know that I’m not alone, they understand and we’re going through this together."
While suicide prevention has been a serious topic throughout the years, due to the seemingly neverending pandemic, Christopherson said this event was needed now more than ever.
"This is a time that people need to know that they have support," she said. "There is help now more than ever. We’re not alone, and this community cares about suicide prevention."
Participants must be registered to participate, but registration is free and open to the public. As of Monday, August 31, the fundraiser had garnered $15,875 in donations with a goal of $25,000. To donate or join the event log onto afsp.org/dickinsonnd.
If you or anyone you know have had/are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.