NATICK - Hundreds gathered on the football field at Natick High on Sunday for the commencement of the first Natick Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention.
Each walker wore beads to represent their relationship with suicide. Some wore purple beads to honor lost friends or relatives, while others wore green beads to signify their own personal struggle, among other colors. The beads showed that everyone there had a story to tell.
The largest team was Team Peach. The massive group of friends and family members of Brendan Petry, nicknamed Peach, were there in his name. Petry was fatally struck by a train in February at the age of 16.
Making up a large portion of Team Peach was another team entirely – the Ashland High School soccer team - for which Petry played goalkeeper.
“He was awesome. He was a hard worker, and he was fearless,” said coach Jose Meza. “It’s a very special event for us, deep in our hearts. We’re out here to honor him, not the tragedy that happened, but to honor his life.”
More events like this have been cropping up in the MetroWest area, a bittersweet reality for board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Kate Eisenburg.
“On the one hand, I wish that we didn’t need to have this many walks, but that fact that we’re all here means that we all really need this in our community,” she said in a speech.
Her mother, a member of the national board of directors for AFSP, Nancy Farrell agreed, adding that there has not been enough focus on this kind of outreach in the area.
“It’s really important to have this Natick walk because Metrowest is such an important set of communities, and we really wanted to have a presence here,” she said. “We really thought it was time to be here to represent and help the community.”
Farrell started working for AFSP after losing her brother to suicide 25 years ago. The comfort and motivation she found in the organization was inspiring.
“I found a group of people who understood what I had gone through, but also had a similar mission to better understand and try to prevent suicide,” she said.
Since joining, Farrell said she has watched the number of these walks across the country increase, as well as their attendance. She said there will be 300 walks nationwide, and 11 in Massachusetts this year.
There are no fundraising requirements to participate, but they find themselves raising close to $250,000 this coming Fall. In Natick, the walk raised more than $17,000.
Eileen Davis, Chairwoman of the MetroWest division of the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention and the director of Call2Talk, a suicide prevention hotline, said there has been an exponential uptick in calls since the death of American movie star and comedian Robin Williams.
“Ever since Robin Williams died, there is a lot more focus on how to help your friends, your co-workers, your students, family members. Not just for yourself anymore,” she said.
Call2Talk takes about 4,000 calls a month and about 45,000 a year. Each call is anonymous and consequence free.
“When people call and they’re able to get their feeling validated by non-judgemental, third-party person, it keeps them sort of stable,” she said.
The organizations that came to together for Sunday’s walk all agree on one common and ambitious goal - to reduce suicide by 20 percent by 2025.
“We are looking to save tens of thousands of lives over the next 10 years,” said Eisenburg
People in crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. People may contact the United Way of Tri-Country’s Call2Talk program by calling 2-1-1 or 508-532-2255 or texting C2T to 741741.