Campus Walk to prevent college suicides raises $18K and draws hundreds to UNL

Cloudy skies and sub-freezing wind chills weren’t enough to thwart the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s 2018 Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, which took place on April 8, aiming to prevent suicide among college-aged adults.

Out of the Darkness Campus Walks are held around the country each year through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as the organization’s primary student fundraising events. The UNL walk raised $18,395 of a $25,000 goal.

Despite the cold, 275 students and Lincolnites walked for the event, which followed a path around campus starting at the Nebraska Union, covering most of the campus’s western half and returning to the Union after the 1.6-mile trek.

The event kicked off at 2 p.m. with the national anthem and a brief introduction from event coordinators Shelby Williby and Noelle Ervin before they turned it over to Ariel Zach, Out of the Darkness UNL’s programming chair.

In a five-minute speech, Zach discussed the effect her father’s suicide had on her and the importance of groups like AFSP and Out of the Darkness.

“Know that there’s always hope,” Zach said. “I found that hope after joining Out of the Darkness my freshman year. This group has been one of the most understanding organizations [at UNL] to date, because the people here understand that nothing but love deserves to be spread.”

After Zach’s speech concluded with an extension of support to others who might be struggling, Jennifer Moffett, the chair of Nebraska’s AFSP chapter, detailed her organization’s mission to fund research for suicide’s causes to make more concerted prevention efforts.

Moffett said AFSP is working to reduce the national suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025, and she said groups like Out of the Darkness are necessary for that goal to be reached.

“It’s so critical to have groups like this come out to provide support and awareness for this age group,” Moffett said.

As a send-off before the walk began, Moffett read a poem titled “Out of the Darkness,” calling for an end to the stigma surrounding suicide and depression.

“The stigma must end, and awareness must rise, we carry this message with tears in our eyes,” the poem read. “From all walks of life, we now gather for them, and shine in their honor with light from within.” 

The walk began at 2:20 p.m., heading west from the Union toward Love Library, then north to Memorial Stadium — where organizers handed out water and snacks — and back to the Union.

Signs were placed along the path — some explaining Out of the Darkness’s fundraising efforts and others pointing walkers in the right direction.

Participants were encouraged to share their experiences with suicide and depression with each other along the walk, and after people of all ages did so, smiles began to appear.

Walkers were welcomed back to the Union Plaza by hot chocolate and blaring self-love pop anthems. The crowd began to disperse, but Zach said after the walk that she hopes the event has a lasting impact on the participants.

“I think it’s just one of the most beautiful things in the world to know that you can pass on strength through something like this,” Zach said.

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