Out of the Darkness: Hope, Healing, Help

Prosper to host 3rd annual walk to support families, loved ones of suicide victims

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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 though.

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.

Christian Tyler’s family and friends smile for a picture at the 2018 Out of the Darkness Walk. After losing her son, Wendy Tyler became the chair and founder of the annual Out of the Darkness Walk in Prosper. The walk will happen Nov. 2 at 8:30 a.m. this year.

“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.

Participants from the Out of the Darkness Walk 2018 smile and wave as they continue on the walk. The Out of the Darkness walk is an annual walk to offer healing to those who lost loved ones and raise awareness for suicide prevention. Currently, there are over 400 walks nationwide.

“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 though, 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.

Ana Arredondo
Hope Squad members McKinley Bownds and Jack Simonini pause for a moment in front of the “Kindness Wall.” The students in this new program at the high school are in charge of keeping the board restocked with positive messages. Students can take an encouraging note whenever they need one, or they can pass by it. “I feel that being on Hope Squad is really going to open my eyes,” sophomore 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.”

“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 off hand remark, but if you take a moment and think, ‘Did they mean that?’ and have an actual conversation and listen without judgement 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 Lifeline1-800-273-8255, 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.”

Shoes lined up at the 2018 Out of the Darkness Walk represent lives lost to suicide. At the conclusion of the walk, they are either donated to charity or returned to the family of the victim. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the shoes are a poignant symbol of the number of lives lost to suicide.

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.