Walk for Hope brought together hundreds of students from four colleges in the Harrisonburg area, uniting them in the journey to overcome depression and suicide.
Students, faculty, and staff met on Saturday morning at Community Mennonite Church, and President Loren Swartzendruber led the long line of EMU participants in a short walk to the Harrisonburg Farmers’ Market.
Groups from Blue Ridge Community College, (BRCC) Bridgewater College (BC), and James Madison University (JMU) also arrived at the Farmers’ Market at approximately the same time, each group led by their own president. Over 800 students and community members participated in the walk.
After arriving at the grassy area outside the Farmers’ Market, the walkers each deposited a flower near the entrance. They then formed a sea of royal blue, purple, maroon, and navy blue “Walk for Hope” shirts in front of the stage to hear a series of presentations. Each of the university presidents gave a short message, as did the director of Rockingham Memorial Hospital (RMH). The main speaker of the event was Julie Hersh, author of “Struck By Living,” who shared her story about journeying through depression and attempted suicide to a life of hope.
Hersh encouraged each member of the audience to formulate their own mental health plan – whether or not they have ever struggled with depression. She shared her image of a river as a metaphor for depression: At the mouth of a river, it is easy to step across safely and continue on, but attempting to cross at the deepest, widest part of a raging river can be extremely difficult and dangerous. Similarly, the easiest way to deal with depression is by confronting it early and actively taking steps to prevent it, but trying to fight it while in the worst stages can seem impossible.
Following the presentation, participants were free to explore the Farmers’ Market and tables set up by various organizations, including the Collins Center, RMH, and CoachLink. Many people chose to visit the arts and crafts tent and continue making paper cranes, an activity that occurred on campus in the weeks before the event. The completed cranes hung on display in various locations among the tents and tables.
Hersh spent her time after the presentations signing books and talking with participants. “It’s a warm and receptive group, and I’m excited,” said Hersh. “There were a lot of stories.”
Walk for Hope was sponsored by the Austin Frazier Memorial Fund, which was created by the family of Austin Frazier after his death in 2009. The fund seeks to raise awareness of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide through events such as the Walk for Hope.
“It’s hard to describe how we feel to see four schools join together…We’re all uniting for such an important event,” said Pam Comer, EMU’s Director of Counseling Services. “We are overwhelmed with the success.”
Comer thanks each student who helped to make the event such a success by participating or volunteering.
“I found it really exciting and encouraging. The weather was beautiful, the turnout was fantastic, and the energy felt really positive,” said First-Year Everett Brubaker, an event volunteer.
“It was heart-warming to see so many students and community members coming together to support those who are struggling with this,” said Lexi Noah, First-Year. “Walk for Hope was a tangible way to show them that they are loved and that they are full of meaning.”
President Swartzendruber announced plans to form a coalition between the four schools in hope of holding events like this again in the future.