Out of the Darkness Walk raises awareness, funds

MILFORD — A Saturday morning walk for the Kelley family from Harrington will take on a different theme Oct. 8 as they walk in memory of Haley Detter-Kelley.

“We lost our daughter to suicide almost a year and a half ago, that was Haley. We decided to do the walk in her memory, in her honor, to raise awareness about suicide to make sure that it doesn’t happen to another family, to another victim,” Haley’s mother, Annie Kelley, said.

Finding a name for their team, Haley’s Hugs, was the easy part. The W.T. Chipman eighth grader was great at giving hugs.

“Haley was famous for her hugs. Everywhere she went, she gave everyone hugs. Even her principal would say that she’d go down the hallway and give everyone a hug,” her mom Annie said.

Haley’s Hugs will join others in raising awareness of suicide prevention while helping bring those who are affected by it “out of the darkness” through advocacy and fundraising.

Although Out of the Darkness Walk has been held in the area in recent years by individual organizers, 2016 marks the first year it will be held in Delaware under the umbrella of a national organization: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP.

Jim Drnec began the Delaware chapter just last after year his friend, Jeff Romani, took his own life in April.

After Mr. Romani’s death, Mr. Drnec sent a donation to the AFSP expecting nothing in return.

“But they called me and said, ‘We noticed you sent us this donation. Delaware is the only state without a chapter. Would you be interested in starting one?’ And I said, ‘I’ll do whatever you need me to do,’” he recalled.

The Out of the Darkness Walk began through the AFSP in 2004, according to its website, with just 24 walks nationwide and 4,000 walkers. This year, 385 walks are expected with more than 250,000 walkers.

“The fundraising is just part of it. They do a lot of education, advocacy and research. There’s a cycle to it. The fundraising leads to research which leads to education and advocacy,” Mr. Drnec said.

Advocacy and education plays a pivotal role in lowering suicide rates, he added, as many of those with mental health dilemmas are ashamed or embarrassed. As such, they don’t reach out and get the help they may need.

He explained, “When someone commits suicide, it means there were some mental health issues that weren’t getting address. The fact is: 99 percent of victims that complain of a suicide attempt are not getting the help that they need; they’re either not getting it at all or not getting appropriate help. So I think there’s a portion that can be saved. A life is a life. I think any time someone reaches that decision it’s preventable in a lot cases.”

While the Delaware AFSP chapter is merely in its infancy, it has already begun to its work on behalf of those affected by suicide.

The chapter participated in a national advocacy day in Washington, D.C., sending representatives from Delaware along with representatives from other states to learn more and speak with U.S. representatives and senators.

Next spring, the Delaware chapter is also planning a local advocacy day at Legislative Hall in Dover.

Mr. Drnec said the local chapter is working with the national organization to provide programs such as Talk Saves Lives, which is a community-based introduction to suicide prevention.

More than Sad is another program offered by the AFSP geared toward parents, educators, administrators, healthcare providers and other community leaders who have access to younger students “to help them understand the scope of this problem, to give them some background and ammunition to work through it.”

A teen version of More than Sad is also available.

“To me, at this point, it’s as much about raising awareness in the community. We are here as a resource in the community. If the police department, the fire department, whomever wants us to come in and talk, we’d be happy to do that,” he said. “And If we raise some money, that’d be great, too.”

The Kelley family hopes to raise at least $1,000 for the Out of the Darkness Walk in Milford.

“We’re hoping to blow that out of the water though,” Joe Kelley said. “I would hate to see another family go through what we just went through. It’s very devastating to lose a child, especially in that manner.”

He said the family still does not know why Haley committed suicide. The school even ran footage to see if there were any signs of bullying. None were found.

“We had a great weekend. We went to Hershey Park two days before,” Ms. Kelley said. “From what we understand, she even told one of her friends that day that she’ll see them tomorrow.”

Regardless of the why, the Kelley’s are focused on the now which includes raising awareness and funds through the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk.

To register or donate to a participant or team, visit http://afsp.donordrive.com/.

The Out of the Darkness Walk in Milford will be held Saturday, Oct. 8 behind the old middle school. Check-in/registration begins at 9 a.m. The walk itself begins at 10:30 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. For more information, contact Jim Drnec at delaware@afsp.org.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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