by Matthew King

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has held Out of the Darkness Walks in Arkansas since September 2008. The first local walk in Little Rock had approximately 400 participants and raised $40,000. 

“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention leads the fight against suicide – we save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide,” says AFSP Arkansas Area Director Wendy Thompson. “I knew by the number of people that came out that there was obviously a need for these walks and not only the walks but the programming, the research, and all that AFSP brings to the table.”

Thompson has been with the organization since the first Arkansas walk in 2008 and helped create the Arkansas chapter of AFSP in 2009. She learned about the organization and became connected after she lost her father to suicide when she was 13. AFSP hosts walks across the sate, five campus walks in the spring and six community walks in the fall, with approximately 4,500 walkers. AFSP also holds more than 550 campus and community walks across the United States.

“Our walks raise awareness and let people know they are not alone. Funds raised support research, education, advocacy and provide support for those affected by suicide,” Thompson says. “The walks are our largest fundraiser. What we do with that money is we take it, and we put it right back into the work here at the state level.”

“Eighty cents of each dollar goes back to suicide awareness and prevention. We keep our expenses very low. Last year we were very proud of having 17 percent expenses overall,” says Marcey Ball, treasurer and fundraising co-chair for AFSP’s Arkansas chapter. “That means most of the money went back to where it was supposed to go. I’m talking staff, labor, everything, all of our expenses as a nationwide organization.”

AFSP is currently working on several different programs like Project 2025, which focuses on firearm safety prevention, and Seize the Awkward Campaign, focusing on starting conversations about mental health. 

“Our goal is to reduce the rate of suicide 20 percent by 2025, which is a very big goal. Project 2025 is a big part of that, so we’re really focused on bringing more education to our schools and communities. Not just certain areas; we want to get all over the state of Arkansas; and we’re slowly achieving that,” she says.

Ball lost her 14-year-old son to suicide in 2009 and became involved in suicide awareness with her daughter through programs like Ride to Fight Suicide and the Out of the Darkness Walk in Northwest Arkansas.

“I was looking for a way to raise awareness about suicide because it’s not talked about. We felt alone,” Ball says. “So six years ago I learned about AFSP and started the first walk up [in Northwest Arkansas], and it’s kind of grown from there.” 

AFSP has walks scheduled statewide this fall. Visit their website if you are interested in participating or volunteering.

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, but there is something we can do about it. Suicide can be prevented,” Thompson says.

LOCAL WALKS

Sept. 8 

Northwest Arkansas Walk, Orchards Park Bentonville, AR

Sept. 14 

Northeast Arkansas Walk, Craighead Forest Park Jonesboro, AR

Oct. 12 

Hot Springs Walk, Downtown Parking Plaza Hot Springs, AR

River Valley Walk, Creekmore Park Fort Smith, AR

Nov. 3 

Little Rock Walk, Clinton Library  Little Rock, AR

Nov. 10 

Texarkana Walk, Bobby Ferguson Park Texarkana, AR    

Out of the Darkness Walk Site: 

afsp.org/walks

AFSP National website: 

www.afsp.org

Programs: 

afsp.org/our-work/education/

AFSP Arkansas Chapter Website: 

afsp.org/arkansas

AFSP Project 2025 website: project2025.afsp.org/

Seize the Awkward Campaign: seizetheawkward.org/