The event raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
By ZANE CLARK
“We need to open this conversation, because that’s how we effect change — I think that’s the most amazing part of the event.”
Those are the words of Mt. Laurel resident Kyra Berry on why she’s once again organizing Burlington County’s “Out of the Darkness Walk” — the signature fundraising event for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
According to the AFSP’s website, the community walks annually bring together a quarter of a million people from more than 400 communities across the nation to “give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or loss, and the platform to change our culture’s approach to mental health.”
Berry, who is attending her first year at Loyola University Maryland, started Burlington County’s Out of the Darkness Walk when she was a junior at Lenape High School two years ago.
At the time, Berry had previously struggled with clinical depression and had even started a club at Lenape called the “Stress Less Club” to help educate peers about the dangers having too much stress in one’s life.
According to Berry, the Burlington County walks in 2016 and 2017 attracted hundreds of walkers, and together, the events raised upward of $20,000 each year for the AFSP through donations and corporate sponsorships.
Now the Burlington County event returns for a third year at Laurel Acres Park in Mt. Laurel on Oct. 20, with a fundraising goal of $25,000.
Although Berry is busy with her first year of college away from New Jersey, she ultimately decided to once again take the helm in organizing this year’s event for Burlington County, along with help from her mother, Sue, back home.
“I realized that this walk is not something I wanted to let go,” Berry said. “I knew in my heart that I had come so far in my own journey through mental health struggles, and just because I’m feeling better, that doesn’t mean everyone is.”
In addition to raising money and walking in solidarity with one another, Berry said the walk allows those affected by mental health issues, along with their friends and family, a chance to share stories of their struggles and triumphs.
“There’s just this feeling, and I know everyone feels it, this feeling of hope and courage and community and everyone coming together and sharing their story and taking part in something that’s bigger than themselves,” Berry said.
According to statistics from the AFSP, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with nearly 45,000 Americans dying by suicide each year. For every suicide of an American, the AFSP notes that another 25 individuals attempt suicide.
With that, Berry once again encourages members of communities throughout Burlington County and the greater area register for this year’s event on Oct. 20, which she said will help open people’s minds to the conversation of mental health and suicide prevention and awareness.
“It’s extremely uncomfortable, and that’s all the more reason why we need to talk about it. No change can be made until everyone comes together and tries to make a difference,” Berry said. “That’s what the event is about. It’s about all these people coming together as a community, building each other up, listening to other people’s stories and walking to prevent suicide.”
Those looking to donate, register or learn more about the upcoming Burlington County Out of the Darkness Walk can visit www.afsp.org/BurlingtonCo.
This year’s event will take place at Laurel Acres Park in Mt. Laurel, located at 1045 S. Church Road. The event will last from 9 a.m. to noon. Online registration closes at noon on Friday, Oct. 19, but participants can still register the day of the walk before the start time.