RIO GRANDE – Students, staff and faculty at the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College teamed up with community members during the inaugural Rio Out of the Darkness Campus Walk hosted by the Office of Accessibility and Mental Health Services on the institution’s main campus. Kelly Bonice, director of the Office of Accessibility and Mental Health Services at Rio, said this walk raised over $5,200 to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s local and national education, advocacy programs and goal to decrease the annual suicide rate 20 percent by 2025.
“Our original goal was to raise $3,000, and I am absolutely humbled to have far exceeded that goal for this very special cause. We want to set the standard in this area and start the conversation,” Bonice said. “The success of the walk means so much to all of us involved. It reiterates that our area needed an event like this and that we touched hearts and lives. My hope is that through this type of outreach, we can begin to eliminate the stigma of talking about mental health. I’m so thankful to everyone who came out to support this event and to those who helped make it a success.”
The Rio Out of the Darkness Campus Walk is one of more than 125 walks happening nationwide this year uniting more than twenty-five thousand walkers to raise over a million dollars for AFSP’s efforts. The organization works to create a culture educated about mental health through community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Tiffany Culpepper, a nursing student and Rio Out of the Darkness Walk planning committee member, said she hopes this event helped bring the community together and bring awareness to mental health issues.
“I think it’s important to bring awareness to mental health because it often gets swept under the rug. We need people to be willing to talk about this and to listen so people will know they aren’t alone,” Culpepper said. “This cause is extremely important to me because my son ended his life. If through my pain another family doesn’t have to suffer the way mine has, then this event has been worth it.”
Bonice said the office plans to continue the walk in upcoming years. Anyone in the community can learn more about AFSP and how to join the conversation on suicide prevention by visiting www.afsp.org or www.rio.edu/accessibility.
Jessica Patterson is a communications specialist at URG.