On Saturday, Oct. 19, thousands of Burlington County residents will gather for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of Darkness Community Walk in honor of the many lives that have been effected in some way by suicide. While the walk honors the lives that have been lost, it is also for anyone that is struggling with suicidal thoughts or dealing with the loss of a loved one.
For former Cinnaminson resident Francine Zimmermann, she will be walking in honor of her son Dillan Anthony Hardt. The 2016 Cinnaminson High School graduate and former wrestler passed away on Jan. 5 after taking his own life. To honor him and to also bring awareness about suicide prevention, Zimmermann will also be creating the Dillan Hardt Scholarship Fund.
According to Zimmermann, Hardt was always a giving person with a big heart. He never spoke badly of anyone and felt as though his true calling was to help people in need. However, at some point during his junior and senior years of high school, Zimmermann saw a change in her son which ultimately led to him withdrawing from others and isolating himself.
On the fateful day, Zimmermann had noticed that Hardt was getting better and saw Hardt becoming more inclusive. She never thought that her child would take his own life.
“Dillan was funny, intelligent and had a huge heart,” said Zimmermann. “He was quick to lend an ear or shoulder to those who needed it. His smile could light up the room. He made everyone laugh and would always find something positive to say about everyone he encountered. He was a great big brother and the best thing that ever happened to me.
“What we think happened is that Dillan suffered from mental health problems,” Zimmermann continued. “Part of the reason I am walking is to bring awareness to suicide prevention. A lot of people don’t like to talk about suicide, but there needs to be more awareness about it.”
At the community walk, participants will be able to find helpful information about support groups, combating the stigma of mental illness and how to alert warning signs. According to Zimmermann, while talking to people around the neighborhood, she has realized that a lot of young adults between 18 to 25 years old suffer from mental illness and suicidal thoughts. This is in part why she would like to honor her son by helping others.
“When you lose your child, you don’t want them to be forgotten,” said Zimmermann. “If someone has mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, he would want you to get help.”
While the final details about the scholarship fund are being ironed out, those looking to get involved or find out more information can email Zimmermann at Dillanhardtscholarshipfund@gmail.com.
Zimmermann also encourages all to attend the walk to find out information that they may not have known before. The Burlington County Out of the Darkness Walk is Saturday, Oct. 19, at Laurel Acres Park in Mt. Laurel. Sign-in and registration will begin at 9 a.m. and the walk will take place 10 a.m. to noon. Those wishing to register to participate in the walk, or simply donate to the cause, can do so at afsp.org/burlingtonco.