Saratoga When Esther Halden lost her friend Rita Leighton to suicide in 2004, the Out of the Darkness Walk for R.I.T.A. each fall was her therapy.
“Our group of friends, we all sort of just stepped in and it was what we all wanted to do,” said Halden, of Saratoga Springs. “It was great to be able to be there for other people who needed a place to be.”
The 7th Out of the Darkness Walk for R.I.T.A. on Sunday, Sept. 18, is a signature fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It was named in honor of Rita, a well-known physician in Saratoga, but its acronym also holds meaning.
“It means ‘Remembrance Intervention Together we bring Awareness,’” said Lisa Riley, co-chair of the walk.
Riley said fundraising is a cornerstone of the walk but its true value is in what it does for the thousands of people (like Halden) who participate.
“It’s really something that everybody in the community can play a role in supporting someone struggling with their own mental illness, supporting someone that’s lost a loved one,” said Riley.
The walk started with 200 people and as grown to well over 1,000. Riley said that’s a sure sign that the walk’s mission to promote awareness through suicide prevention education is working.
“We are bringing this issue out of the darkness. I really think the name of the walk is what’s been happening,” said Riley. “Anybody who lives in the Capital Region knows what’s happened in South Glens Falls, Schenectady, Guilderland … the topic is not going away but I think the community grabs on to this and grasps this issue. They can’t hide from it anymore.”
Half of the money raised stays local and funds suicide prevention education programs and materials.
“We have been able to hire a full-time staff member to do daytime education pieces in schools, workplaces,” said Riley.