ESCANABA - This Saturday, runners and walkers in Escanaba can take strides to raise awareness about suicide prevention during the End the Silence Walk.
Registration for the walk begins at 9 a.m. in Ludington Park. The registration fee is $25 per person and $10 per child up to the age of 16. Families can receive a special rate of $50 for a family of four with an addition $10 fee for each additional person. Group rates are also available and registration fees are waived with pledges of $50 or more. The collection of pledges is optional for participants.
Registered runners and walkers will receive t-shirts at the event and will have the option to take one of three, non-competitive routes. The two, five, and 10 mile routes all begin at Ludington Park, and all three routes will travel along Ludington Street, allowing participants to display their shirts as a group.
"A lot of people don't realize how big it is but it affects a lot of people," said Cindy Bitner, one of the organizers and founders of the event.
While Bitner notes that suicide touches the lives of many people, the walk began because of the personal connection that Bitner and her family had to the suicide.
"My family and I started End the Silence when we lost our second son to suicide," said Bitner.
Now in its fifth year, the End of Silence Walk started to honor the memories of Bobby and Josh Bitner. The two brothers both were lost to suicide 13 years apart. Bobby was 13 when he chose to end his life and Josh was 17.
"If it can happen to them it can happen to anybody," said Bitner, noting Josh's battle with depression was not obvious to the people around him.
The walk raises money for the Delta County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Every year the walk has raised at least $10,000 for the group, which provides suicide awareness education to students, teachers, public safety officers, and others in the Delta County area. For those dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, the Task Force aims to spread the message that help is available and it is OK to talk about the struggle.
"I actually had a student come up to me and tell me that he decided not to kill himself," said Bitner. "He said he just couldn't do that to his family."
The Task Force also works to make people aware of the signs of suicide and depression in others.
"A lot of people don't understand how severe depression can be if they don't ask for help. You can be sitting right next to someone and not even know," said Bitner.
In addition to booths from local community organizations that provide mental health services and support for those dealing with suicide and depression, participants in this year's End the Silence Walk will have an opportunity to listen to Ishpeming High School varsity football coach Jeff Olson, who lead the team to state championships after losing his 19-year-old son to suicide.
A memory quilt will also be on display to remember those that have been lost to suicide.
For more information about the End the Silence Walk or to pre-register visit www.endthesilencewalk.com.