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Out of the darkness

Suicide prevention, awareness walk returns to Albert Lea

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness walk will return to Albert Lea for its second year next weekend.

Registration for the walk will start at 9 a.m. Sept. 12 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 501 S. Washington Ave. in Albert Lea. Organizer Darcy Nielsen said she hopes to have the walk generally start around 10 a.m. from the lower parking lot of the church, but that registration and walking can be done any time from 9 a.m. to noon that day. There won’t be a mass start this year due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Those walking are asked to wear masks while registering, and volunteers will wear masks as well. Participants should stick with the partner or teams they’re walking with and respect social distancing guidelines. There won’t be any speakers or a set program this year, but the Revs. Steve and Eileen Woyen will be on hand for all walkers as they return in separate groups for an outdoor memorial and candle service for each group. No meal will be served this year, but packaged juice and water will be given to walkers in the morning. The memorial wall will be on display for people to view.

The walk’s route will remain the same — starting from the lower parking lot of Trinity Lutheran Church, walking up to Broadway Avenue to the gazebo at Fountain Lake Park, down to New Denmark Park and then back to the church lot.

Despite the general chaos the pandemic has wreaked on public and group events this year, Nielsen said it was important for her that the walk go on in some form.

“It’s been a tough year, but I was bound and determined we were still going to have it,” she said.

Nielsen said last year was her first full year of chairing with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and has asked to get involved with more projects. The cause is one that hits home for her, as she lost her cousin Tommy Aldrich to suicide in December 2016.

A participant in the Out of the Darkness Walk views memory boards during last year’s walk. – Tribune file photo

“I promised him at his funeral that I would be his voice, that he wouldn’t be another statistic,” she said.

Nielsen said it’s important for her that people struggling know they’re not alone, and that there are people out there who want to help.

She said the vice president of the AFSP said 48,000 people die every year by suicide, and that it’s the 10th leading cause of death. She said the coronavirus pandemic has been hard on everyone, with limited social interaction making matters worse for those already struggling.

The mission of the organization as well as the Out of the Darkness walks is to raise money that will go to educational programs and resources for better understanding mental health and training those in the workplace, schools and everywhere else about the importance of making mental health a priority.

Last year’s walk in Albert Lea had a goal of raising $5,000, Nielsen said. It raised $18,098, had 277 walkers and 32 teams. This year’s goal is $10,000, and as of Tuesday afternoon the walk had raised $6,133. So far 76 walkers and 12 teams are registered for the walk. Fundraising through the Albert Lea walk goes through the end of December, and those looking to register or to donate can do so at afsp.org/albertlea. Registration will be open up through the start of the walk next weekend.

Bringing the walk to Albert Lea meant a lot to Nielsen, and she said the community reception to last year’s inaugural walk was extremely humbling. She said there were people from Austin and Owatonna who participated in last year’s walk as well.

“I had people texting me after saying the healing had started,” she said. “It was really humbling to see everybody that showed up.”

She said people were able to meet others and hear stories about the similar situations other people have gone through, and whether they were able to talk about their own experiences or not, it helps. The walk is meant to not only raise money but to offer others support, Nielsen said; a way out of the darkness.

This year’s walk will not have a program and will respect social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said organizer Darcy Nielsen. – Tribune file photo

 

About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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