Oakley walks ‘out of the darkness’


Oakley residents hold up banner to represent community organization.

MARC LOPEZ, Staff writer

You never forget the feeling that hits when you hear the news that you’ve lost a friend to suicide. In shock and awe, many begin to feel guilty, question everything and often become depressed.

Vanessa Perry, Heather Estes, Tara Jean Robinson and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention believe that we all can come out of our darknesses. Perry, Chapter Board Chair, said she felt emotional and overwhelmed about her final time organizing Oakley’s Out of the Darkness community walk on Saturday, Oct. 13. Her retirement comes due to relocating in Sacramento and not being able to fulfill demands from the chapter.

Both Estes and Robinson said they are eager to fill Perry’s shoes.

“These are some big shoes that are going to be tough to fill,” said Robinson on Vanessa retiring from organizing the walk. “I have full confidence that me and Heather are going to get a lot of supporters around us.”

The event itself, held at Cypress Grove Community Park in Oakley, is a charity and awareness walk held every year. There are five other walks that occur simultaneously throughout the Bay area. This year’s event had 356 total walkers and raised more than $39,000.

Among the activities held in connection with the walk were rock painting, an attendee-created mural and resource booths from local non profit organizations that extend help. Colored “Honored beads” were also given out for attendees to identify what kind of loss they have gone through.

“Knowing the struggles my kids were going to incur, I needed to do something proactive for my children,” said Estes. “My oldest has access to information [he] probably wouldn’t have had access to before, and noticing that I want the information out there.”

LMC Student Kelly Williams attended the event and  represented Team Contra Costa Medical Career College. On her own, Williams raised more than $400 worth of donations for the Out of the Darkness walk. Her entire team raised a total of $3,636 and came in second in donations raised.

Williams, an activist in suicide awareness, was disappointed in the lack of activities to participate in at the event.

“I do believe there should’ve been more mental health representation,” she said, adding that the event should have had a more personalized approach.

The leading team in donations was Team Xavier whose team founder, Rich Rodriguez, gave an emotional speech sharing his experience in losing his brother. Team Xavier raised $7,080 and most of the proceeds came from his second annual Healthy Fit Boot Camp “Fitness to Fight Suicide” fundraiser. The fundraiser is in honor of his brother which proceeds went directly to his team.

The AFSP is also working on “Project 2025,” which aims to keep the national suicide rate below 20 percent by targeting four critical prevention areas. These areas are: Firearms, Healthcare Systems, Emergency Departments and the Corrections System.

According to the AFSP,  in 2016 the national average suicide rate among all ages per 100,000 was 13.42 percent. For suicide related deaths in adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 was 13.15 percent, while the ages 45 to 54 was the highest rate at 19.42 percent.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255

“It’s okay to not be okay and to get help,” said Estes.