Out of the Darkness: Hope, Healing, Help
Prosper to host 3rd annual walk to support families, loved ones of suicide victims
October 3, 2019
When Wendy Tyler first stood on stage and looked out at the 450 people staring back at her, she was awed and grateful to know so many others understood what she and her family were going through.
Tyler, chair and founder of Prosper’s annual Out of the Darkness Walk, is part of a national movement that helps thousands come together across over 400 communities every year to offer support and be a place of healing to those suffering a loss. This will be Prosper’s third year hosting one, as well as Tyler’s third year chairing since she first stood on stage at Prosper’s first walk in 2017.
“The No. 1 purpose of the Out of the Darkness Walk is to support those who have suffered a loss to suicide,” Tyler said. “It also is to raise awareness and raise funds for research and educational programs. Even though we fundraise, and it is a fundraising event, the walk itself is for hope and healing.”
After suffering the loss of her son, it was Tyler’s daughter who discovered the walks online after looking for ways for their family to heal.
“Three years ago we lost Christian,” Tyler said. “He was 15 years old and a junior at Prosper High School. The week after we lost him, my daughter was trying to find resources and things to help us and figure out how to heal, and she came across the AFSP [Amercian Foundation for Suicide Prevention] online and she saw information about Out of the Darkness Walks.”
The walks are a nationwide movement to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention and research.
“She looked it up and gave us information and told us about one that was happening in Bonham,” Tyler said. “At that time, there was one in Dallas as well, but we’re from Prosper, so Dallas seemed kind of big. We decided to go and walk in Bonham and it was a really beautiful experience. When the walk was over, it was just so beautiful and so hopeful, and did my heart good.”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are walks in more than 400 communities nationwide.
“I talked with my kids and husband and found out what we could do to get one in Prosper,” Tyler said. “I contacted the North Texas Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Her name is Sarah Allen, and she’s the area director. We met and said if I was chair, they would support us and help us get it going. That’s how it ended up coming to Prosper. This is our third year, my third year, chairing the walk, and we’ve had it at Windsong Ranch all three years.”
Prosper’s annual Out of the Darkness Walk will happen Nov. 2 at 8:30 a.m. this year.
“I think the biggest thing for us and me personally when we participated in the walk in Bonham, Bonham’s kind of small so there was about 150 people, and [I] remember one of the speakers saying how excited she was to see so many people there in support of the cause,” Tyler said. “I didn’t like that. I’m like ‘how can you be excited to see that many people, because that means there’s that many losses,’ and it seemed like an odd thing to say. My first walk in Prosper, when I stood on the stage and spoke and I looked out, we had about 450 people there that first year. It made me feel so grateful. I wasn’t excited to see those numbers, but [was] awed by it to know there were so many people there who understood what I was going through, and what my family was going through. That’s what it is, being able to recognize that we’re not alone, unfortunately, with so many others who have suffered a loss and understand.”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, some things to watch for when concerned a person may be suicidal are changes in behaviors, or the development of new behaviors. A change in behavior is one of the biggest concerns if the change in behavior is related to change, loss, or a painful event.
“I think it’s been really great in Prosper and the surrounding communities that participate in the Out of the Darkness Walk in Prosper,” Tyler said. “They are definitely more aware of the resources that are available. We get phone calls and emails unfortunately fairly regularly when there’s a loss or an attempt that I don’t think people would have so quickly felt comfortable calling and asking for help. But because they participated in the walk or they participated in a program that we put on because of the walk, like Talk Saves Lives and other things, the information is getting out there into the community where they can go for resources and get help, and I think that’s huge.”
For more information, go to www.AFSP.org/ to learn how to get involved and statistics. This year, Prosper ISD has implemented the HOPE Squad program. According to the HOPE Squad website, HOPE Squad is a school based peer-to-peer suicide prevention program designed which focuses of prevention, intervention, and ‘postvention’. For more information, go to www.hopesquad.com/
“HOPE Squad is a way of bringing mental illness to attention and making people feel like they aren’t alone,” HOPE Squad member Jordyn Leggiere said. “Our main goal is to let people know that they matter.”
HOPE Squad is responsible for the walls of positive sticky notes throughout the school.
“I’m super excited, I played a part in getting HOPE Squad there,” Tyler said. “I went with the district up to Utah to be trained. As a matter of fact, I would love to be one of Prosper’s HOPE Squad advisors, but I teach in Frisco, not in Prosper. That was kind of something I wanted to see Prosper adopt, so last summer I started speaking with Holly Ferguson, the assistant superintendent, about bringing HOPE Squad. Then in November, [I] talked to her again, then in February all of the teachers and administrators who are a part of it went up to Utah to get trained.”
HOPE Squad will help volunteer at the Out of the Darkness Walk this year.
“I love it,” Tyler said. “I’ve been getting emails from Mr. Cooper, the HOPE squad advisor about updates of what the HOPE Squad is doing there. I get pictures, and got several from HOPE Week, and I’m just excited that the youth are part of that and starting to really help the rest of you guys understand the importance of mental health, speaking out, and talking to one another.”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the biggest thing a person can do if they think someone is at risk is to have an honest conversation with them.
“One of the biggest things we encourage is for you to have a real conversation with someone you may be concerned about, and just to be listening,” Tyler said. “Sometimes our friends will say something that seems like an offhand remark, but if you take a moment and think, ‘Did they mean that?’ and have an actual conversation and listen without judgment and just let them know you’re there for them. If they need to get help, to talk. I will say that’s a big one. If someone threatens self-harm or suicide to not keep it a secret because I think we can all agree that we would rather have our friend mad at us and alive, then not mad at us and gone.”
If a person says they are considering suicide, take the person seriously and stay with them and help them remove any lethal means. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free.
“There’s all kinds of ways you can volunteer, and I would imagine with HOPE squad there, that there may be ways to get involved even if you’re not in HOPE Squad,” Tyler said. “The Out of the Darkness Walks, you can register at www.AFSP.org/Prosper and you can register as a volunteer, and I’ll see that. We need people the day of the walk making signs, helping register, giving hugs. That’s a big one, that’s huge. It may seem so silly, but we had someone holding a sign for free hugs. Believe it or not, that’s a wonderful thing at the walk. There’s lots of little jobs we need people to do.”
Donations play a critical role in bringing programs to schools, and keeping walks going.
“As far as for suicide prevention in general, if you or someone feels strongly about having one of the programs come, you can request them,” Tyler said. “You can go to the counselors and say ‘I heard the AFSP has a ‘More than Sad’ program, or an ‘It’s Real’ program, and is there any way we can get that here?’ That’s what happened with Talk Saves Lives, I went and presented that. I guess it’s been about a year. We have a lot things that don’t cost anything to come and present. We have a lot of materials that are completely free because part of the funds from the walks pay for them.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website has a page for different programs for schools. For more information, go to www.AFSP.org/Take-Action/Bring-Prevention-School/
“The Out of the Darkness Walk has impacted me in so many ways,” Junior Brighton Palasota said. “Not only does it bring awareness to suicide prevention, but it brings people together who share similar experiences. It’s a place to remember our loved ones who have lost their lives by suicide and a place to come together and support one another.”
At the walks, some activities for hope and healing are a memory wall, empty shoes and honor beads. The memory wall is a photo wall for those people are walking for. The empty shoes represent those lost to suicide, and are a symbol for the number of lives lost to suicide. The honor beads represent what a person is struggling with, whether a loss of a family member, friend, or even a personal attempt themselves. The purpose of the beads are to help identify others going through similar struggles.
“The Out of the Darkness Walk is a place where people don’t have to feel alone and can share their stories,” Palasota said. “My experiences at the Out of the Darkness Walks have been nothing but positive. No matter where you look, there is someone who is willing to be your shoulder to cry on. I first became involved with the Out of the Darkness Walks around three or four years ago. My family has been personally affected by suicide, and because of that we walk every single year to raise awareness.”
For more information on how to get involved at the Out of the Darkness Walk in Prosper, go to www.AFSP.org/Prosper
When asked what one thing she wants people to take away from this, Mrs. Tyler said, “I want them to know they matter, they’re not alone, and I want them to choose to stay.”
There is always hope out there. You’re not alone.
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: text TALK to 741741.
Article updated Oct. 25 to provide additional links, correct spelling and to match the formatting of previous topical offerings.
Hope Squad program starts up at Prosper, plans to change lives
After thousands of lives were lost to suicide in his state, high school principal Dr. Gregory A. Hudnall started the Hope Squad program in Provo, Utah. Now, the program has spread to cities and schools across the country – including Prosper.
On Monday, Aug. 19, the Prosper Hope Squad organization held an informational parent meeting about the upcoming school year.
“Hope Squad is just another piece of the puzzle,” Hudnall said. “This (suicide) isn’t a school issue. It’s a society issue. It’s a challenge for all of us.”
After 18-year-old Braden Speed of Prosper took his life in October 2018, Speed’s friends and parents pushed to bring the Hope Squad program here.
“We want to inform and educate,” Hope Squad teacher and sponsor, Tony Cooper said.
With plans to give hope and inspire the community, PISD students selected more than 100 kids to be members of the Hope Squad.
“I feel that being on Hope Squad is really going to open my eyes,” sophomore Hope Squad member Jordyn Leggiere said. “It will make me happy by being able to help people, and to remind them that they aren’t alone, and that they matter so much.”
Although the 2019-2020 school year is Hope Squad’s first time at Prosper, members have already started their mission.
“We went to different lunches, and sat with kids who just needed a friend,” Leggiere said. “And that’s when I was like, wow, this is going to be a lot of fun helping out people who need it the most.”
Since Hope Squad’s kickoff, Hudnall said he believes that the most important thing that Hope Squad members can do is to “just be there.”
“Young people don’t want to die. They just want the pain to go away,” Hudnall said. “And I think that the most important thing to do, is to simply just be there.”
Hope Squad plans National Suicide Prevention Week activities
Every year, organizations such as the Lifeline and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) raise awareness for suicide prevention through the month of September. National Suicide Prevention Week will take place through Saturday, Sep. 14.
The Hope Squad class arranged a series of activities for students to participate in this week. To raise awareness, students should wear yellow attire on Friday, Sep. 13 to support suicide prevention.
“Suicide prevention week holds so much importance,” junior Hope Squad member Carmen Mijares said. “Suicide is something that unfortunately happens every day. This week allows us to promote its prevention and spread some love. The Hope Squad is preparing different acts of kindness and activities throughout the week to let everybody know they are loved and worth living.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline organization created a hashtag to spread awareness throughout social media. #BeThe1To is the message they wish to communicate in regards to the actions one can take towards preventing suicide.
According to the Lifeline, preventing suicide begins by being the one to ask if someone at risk is okay in a caring way. Then, help keep the person safe by minimizing harm around them. When a person listens without judgmental thoughts, someone in danger will feel more hopeful and less depressed. Helping a person at risk stay connected to individuals who provide support will help them feel more secure. Lastly, be the one to follow up after.
“Many people don’t get the opportunity to help those with mental health illnesses in their everyday lives,” Mijares said. “And luckily, that’s what this week is all for.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. You are never alone.
Hope Squad program to come to Prosper after teen suicide
This article was originally published on Feb. 1, 2019.
After a long time of struggling, 18-year-old Braden Speed took his own life Oct. 30, 2018. Students Hope Rasberry, Greg Valek, Kailee Walters, Laurissa Miller, Ashlyn Stokes, and Courtney Yates – along with members of the Speed family – now work to eradicate the isolation students can feel through forming the Braden’s Voice Team. They are working to bring a program called Hope Squad to the high school.
Hope Squad started at a high school in Provo, Utah plagued with suicide. Utah has a suicide rate 2.5 times higher than the U.S. average. Their principal called for change and brought in psychology students from a local college to start the Hope Squad.
“They went into the school and did this social experiment where they said, ‘Do you guys want to make a difference or do you want to continue on this track’,” Braden’s father, Mark Speed, said. “They said ‘we don’t want this anymore.’ I think that’s what’s going on here. People don’t want this anymore.”
The Hope Squad members in Utah were selected by a student ballot. Administrators distributed ballots to every student. The sheet asked kids what student they would go to if they were having a hard time. They discovered about 40 names that rose to the top of the list, which formed the Hope Squad. These students then trained on how to handle others’ situations as well as how to support them. The same process and training will happen in Prosper.
“I think it’s really important because one of the things that have been really hard was Braden was such a relationship-driven kid from the time he was little,” Braden’s mother, Cathy Speed, said. “He was into deep relationships, and he could not find that here. He felt like he was alone. He felt like nobody cared about him.”
Each student who is a part of Braden’s voice team has been impacted by suicide, whether they have been through a dark time themselves or have had friends close to them who have dealt with suicidal thoughts or actions. In the past four years, Prosper has experienced four students leave this world via suicide.
“All of a sudden, people listen when you lose someone,” Cathy Speed said. “I just wish these programs would have been in place sooner. I truly believe some of these programs would have made a difference and possibly saved him. He came home after school after another student was lost, and was so sad and angry. He felt like the student was too soon forgotten, no one mentions it like he didn’t exist.”
Provo was able to put Hope Squads in 31 out of the 41 school districts in Utah, and administration is now helping it make its way to Prosper.
“The goal is to make sure that every student feels a part of the Eagle Family,” principal John Burdett said. “I don’t say that lightly or as a platitude. I really want every student to be a part of this incredible family of students, staff, and community. Hope Squad supplements this by helping students who are really struggling and need some help.”
Since the loss of their son, the Speeds have been dedicated to making sure no one feels alone. They’ve started opening their home on Sunday nights to those who need a place to talk and to be with others to make a space for the relationships their son needed.
“We have to be determined to do something different besides just be nicer to each other – cause it isn’t workin’,” Mark Speed said. “We want to go deeper. They want to start having connections with kids who don’t fit in or don’t have a place or feel welcome. We’ve decided to open our home. It’s a totally informal thing – just a place for kids. There’s no partying. There’s no drinking, no judging. It’s a safe space.”
With the world of social media being so prominent in students lives it can sometimes make it easy to feel alienated.
“A big piece of this was social media,” Cathy Speed said. “He thought he was the only one at home on his couch, but he’s not. Braden had thousands and thousands of friends on social media, but he felt so alone. What we’re finding is people are made for relationships, but what kids now view as a relationship is how many likes they get on a picture. You can buy people to go follow you. You are paying people to like you so that you feel you have value and self-worth when what you really need is someone to reach out. If just one person would have reached out it would have made all the difference.”
Braden’s father is dedicated to making sure his son did not die in vain. In December 2018, Mark Speed started a blog called Braden’s Voice. He shares Braden’s stories and his family’s struggles since their loss. The blog has reached more than 20,000 people in the U.S. and has been viewed in 49 countries.
“We’ve had several parents reach out whose kids are on suicide watch but have made a commitment to live because of him,” Cathy Speed said.”I know that we’re touching somebody.”
Hope Squad, or another effective program like, is projected to become an active part of Prosper after February 2019. According to Burdett, administrators are looking for an option that does use a student-led effort to establish the relationships kids like Braden needed.
“No one should have to feel like their alone in this world,” Rasberry said. “I can’t sit back and let it happen anymore. I got through it, but some kids don’t. We see that there needs to be a change so we have to.”
Braden’s voice blog: https://bradensvoice.blog/
ABC news article: https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/prosper-parents-hope-to-turn-sons-suicide-into-teaching-moment/287-626092293?jwsource=cl
Provo High School suicide prevention: https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/prosper-parents-hope-to-turn-sons-suicide-into-teaching-moment/287-626092293?jwsource=cl