Hundreds turn out for Out of Darkness Walk

Mountain View students walked in tribute to their friend Annabelle Strelecki, who died at age 16 from suicide. From left: Emily Zentmyer, Jackson Orr, Sarah Alessi, and Bridgette Reed. PHOTO BY PAT FARNELLI

Mountain View students walked in tribute to their friend Annabelle Strelecki, who died at age 16 from suicide. From left: Emily Zentmyer, Jackson Orr, Sarah Alessi, and Bridgette Reed. PHOTO BY PAT FARNELLI

Despite ominous clouds and chilly temperatures, more than 200 people participated in a suicide awareness and prevention event Saturday that included a walk around the track and an indoor volleyball tournament at Montrose Area High School.
Lisa McVaugh, whose family has survived the loss of a loved one by suicide, welcomed participants to the 5th annual Out of the Darkness Walk at the Montrose High School track and field.
Carol Cundey, an organizer of the event, said, “When my husband died eight years ago, there were very few resources in Susquehanna County. Now there is a Survivor Outreach Program, SOP, and there are other people out there who can listen and be supportive, and you can talk to a person who has been through a similar experience.”
The Survivor Outreach Program in Susquehanna County matches persons who have lost a loved one to suicide bereaved with a trained loss survivor for support and resources.
Cundey walks with her daughter, Hannah, as part of Corny’s Crew.
McVaugh explained that when these walks started more than 10 years ago, few people came out. This year more than a quarter of a million people are walking across the country in efforts to fight suicide.
McVaugh walks with her sisters, Tina Cundey and Paula Ross, in honor Jeff Cundey, known as “Corny,” who took his own life in March of 2009. A friend of the family decided to start holding the suicide awareness walks, and called the Cundey family.
Not long after that, the friend moved from the area, and Corny’s family took over the event planning, along with friends and their mother, Noralee Cundey.
“Look around you. Everyone here today wants to make suicide a thing of the past. Everyone here wants there to be help available for those who need it. Together we are creating a culture that’s smart about mental health,” McVaugh said.
Carol Cundey noted that the program had a booth and volunteers at the Harford
Fair all week, getting out pamphlets and contact information. Seven hundred gun locks were distributed to fairgoers.
The Out of Darkness Walk is held to recognize World Suicide Prevention Day. Participants can pause to reflect on the impact of suicide on families and communities, and to affirm the importance of prevention. The walkers can honor the lives of those lost to suicide and take steps toward prevention.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has set the bold goal to reduce the annual suicide rate 20 percent by the year 2025. Reaching that goal would mean that tens of thousands of lives would be saved.
In addition to the walk around the track, accompanied by inspirational music, the participants release colored balloons corresponding with the suicide victim’s significance in their lives. The balloons have a tag attached so that when they are found, the family member can be recognized.
One walker, Bridgette Reed, participated along with several friends from Mountain View High School. Reed said that in November of 2015, her best friend, Annabelle Strelecki, took her own life at the age of 16. In May, Reed attended a school board meeting with Sunshine Mickiewicz, Annabelle’s mother, to ask the school administrators to allow an empty chair to be placed on the stage with the graduating class. This was not permitted, but Annabelle’s name was read aloud and her mother received an honorary diploma recognizing her daughter as a member of the Class of 2017.
Reed has also lost a stepfather and a cousin, who both died as a result of suicide.
Carol Cundey said, “Don’t use the word ‘committed’ when talking about suicide. It sounds like committing a crime. It is better to say ‘died from suicide’, as you would say ‘died of cancer.’”
She said that the gun locks are one way to prevent impulsive actions resulting in a loss of life. “If you are to take away the immediate action, you’ve bought them some time.”
Reed noted, “Even if you can convince someone to stay until tomorrow, that might be enough. The more we talk about it, the more it can be prevented. Everyone can talk about suicide. It needs to be spoken.”
Funds raised by the event will be used for research, local educational programs in schools, and mandated teacher training hours.
McCain recognized a list of sponsors, including the Susquehanna County Independent, Andre and Son, ICS, Johnson Outdoors Gear, McCain Trucking, Ray’s Supermarket, Pump N Pantry, State Farm Insurance, and Visions Federal Credit Union.
There is a new resource available for those who are troubled and wish to talk to someone about mental health issues and depression. The Mental Health WARM LINE is a confidential, one-on-one telephone support for persons from Susquehanna or Lackawanna counties who have a mental illness and are experiencing sadness or loneliness or just want to share good news. It is staffed by trained persons who are in recovery from a mental illness and who understand the needs of their peers. The toll free WARM LINE 1-866-654-8114 is available daily from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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