Participants in the fourth annual Walk for Hope on Saturday, March 28, will wear, for the first time, the same t-shirt. For the past three years, walkers who joined the trek to raise awareness about depression and suicide among college students donned t-shirts in colors that marked their affiliation to one of four area colleges: Eastern Mennonite University, James Madison University, Bridgewater College and Blue Ridge Community College.
This year, the t-shirts, free to pre-registered participants, are printed with four tread marks, inked, of course, with each school’s colors.
“It’s a symbol of all four schools united together,” said Suzanne Hostetler, who mentors EMU students in her positions with CoachLink and campus ministries and is a member of the Walk for Hope planning committee. “The EMU counseling center is grateful for the opportunity to work alongside of JMU, Bridgewater College, and Blue Ridge Community College to raise awareness about depression and suicide prevention. We see this day as a valuable event for students, faculty, staff and community members to come together in unity and to experience hope.”
The walk and all afternoon activities are free and open to the public. People whose lives have been affected by mental illness, either personally or through friends and family, are especially encouraged to attend.
Participants will gather at 11:15 a.m. at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, with the walk to Bridgewater College commencing at 11:30 a.m. The main event music, speakers, refreshments, and creative arts activities, which includes music, speakers, refreshments, and community arts projects starts at 12:30 p.m. in Nininger Hall. Children’s activities include face painting, hula hooping, and a special art area.
Comedian Kevin Breel, a writer and activist for student mental health, will be the speaker. The 21-year-old Canadian has toured frequently on behalf of Active Minds, a national student organization that works on peer levels to change the perception about mental health. His talk “Confessions of a Depressed Comic” was featured on TEDxKids.
As in past years, participants can create remembrance art, adding squares to the “Symbols of Hope” quilt or creating “Hope in a Bag,” personal bags “to hold symbols of hope to remember for yourself or share with others,” she said, adding that participatory art projects have always been an important part of the event.
Since it began in 2012, Walk for Hope has increased in size each year. Last year’s event, hosted at EMU, drew between 600 and 700 participants.
That growth may come as the result of a tragic fact: Most college students know someone who has suffered from depression or anxiety, contemplated suicide or died by suicide. The second leading cause of death among college students is suicide, according to a 2012 study by the American College Counseling Association. ULifeline.org reports that depression and anxiety are more common among college students than back pain, sinus ailments, and allergies.
The event is sponsored by Austin Frazier Memorial Fund, which also funds an innovative mentoring program at EMU called CoachLink. The program began after Austin Frazier, a junior at James Madison University, died in 2009 after a long battle with bipolar disorder.