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Out of the Darkness: Suicide prevention walk planned in EC

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Betsy Rhodes of the North Carolina chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention discusses suicide prevention resources with John Chappell during an informational meeting at College of The Albemarle Tuesday evening. Rhodes' organization is helping plan an Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk in Elizabeth City in April.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Friday, February 15, 2019

The first Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk in northeastern North Carolina is being planned for this April in Elizabeth City.

The tentative date for the walk is Saturday, April 13; the finalized date and venue will be announced later.

Although the exact route for the walk is still being worked out, plans are for it to begin and end on the Elizabeth City State University campus.

College of The Albemarle also is involved in the walk and will have a team participating, according to Betsy Rhodes, area director for North Carolina with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The Out of the Darkness Walk will be a first for this part of the state, Rhodes told a small group of people who attended an informational meeting on the event at COA Tuesday evening.

Rhodes said she is excited about the Elizabeth City walk because she was born here and she and her husband still have a house in Weeksville.

The Elizabeth City walk is one of seven walks that AFSP-North Carolina will hold this spring. There are also 13 fall walks.

AFSP has been around 30 years and started holding walks in North Carolina 13 years ago.

Half of the money raised by each walk goes to the national office to be used for research on suicide prevention and the other half comes back to the chapter, Rhodes said, noting North Carolina became a formal chapter in 2014.

There is no registration fee for the walk. Anyone can participate but people are asked to fundraise as part of their participation, Rhodes said.

The fundraising goal for the inaugural Elizabeth City Out of The Darkness Walk is $5,000.

“I believe we will exceed that,” Rhodes said.

In addition to raising funds the walks also serve the critical purpose of raising awareness about suicide.

“What protects people is learning — it’s education,” Rhodes said.

Awareness and education combat fear and shame, she said.

For instance, in the world of suicide prevention the term “commit suicide” is not used, according to Rhodes. An alternative term that is used is “die by suicide.”

What is helpful, Rhodes said, is talking about suicide in a way that normalizes prevention and does not normalize suicide.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can benefit children who are at-risk of suicide, Rhodes said.

Public awareness needs to reach a “critical mass” in order to the number of suicides to go down, she said.

“Talk saves lives — it does,” Rhodes said.

Suicide is a deeply personal matter for Rhodes, whose son Luke died by suicide in 2003 when he was 23.

“I am so healed by this every single day,” Rhodes said of her work with AFSP and the Out of the Darkness walks. “This heals my broken heart.”

AFSP is mainly a volunteer organization, Rhodes said, adding “our volunteers are the hardest-working people.”

Rhodes was hired as area director for AFSP-NC in 2015. She has been working to expand the group’s activity in the state and make the board more diverse. She said the 23-member board of AFSP’s North Carolina chapter is now very diverse and very active.

She is shifting from a role as statewide director to a new part-time position in which she will focus on the coastal regions of the state, especially on building a network in the northeast.       

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