College of the Canyons held its annual “Shine A Light” event Tuesday to pay respect to the students across the nation who died by suicide in the prior year.
The annual event, one of multiple mental health-related events this week on campus, offered students the opportunity to reflect on the sight of the 1,100 lanterns that represent the average number of student suicides every year.
Those in attendance Tuesday also had the chance to connect with local representatives from various mental health organizations who were on hand to inform students, staff and other community members about the myriad resources available to them in the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond.
Dawnel DeRubeis, who was in attendance Tuesday representing the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said it’s important for the college to hold awareness events like Shine A Light because suicide can affect anybody, including those on COC’s campuses.
“It’s all about prevention and what can we do in the community, because then we don’t have to worry about dealing with the effects that come after suicide,” DeRubeis said. “The earlier we can teach our kids about the value of mental health and things like coping skills so they have the foundation to fall back on, then the better.”
This is one reason why DeRubeis created the inaugural Santa Clarita Valley Out of the Darkness Campus Walk that’ll be held at the Valencia campus this Saturday in an effort to draw attention to the fight for suicide prevention and support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s education and support programs.
Hosted by the AFSP Greater Los Angeles and Central Coast, registration for the walk will be held at 8 a.m. and the event will occur from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“We’ll have a singer from ‘The Voice,’ a resource fair with about 15 organizations and we’ll have speakers that will share their incredibly powerful stories,” DeRubeis said, mentioning participants can expect family-friendly activities like face painting and henna tattoos. “We’ll also do a bead ceremony, which is one of my favorite parts of the walk because you get to look around and see how you’re connected to everybody in the walk without saying a word.”
Suicide touches one in five American families, DeRubeis said, adding, “We hope that by walking we will draw attention to this issue and keep other families from experiencing a suicide loss. Our ultimate goal is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.”
Other American Foundation for Suicide Prevention chapters hold the walk on a yearly basis, DeRubeis said. “When I attended my first walk five years ago, I knew nothing about the ASFP but I left that day with most incredible feelings and I had such a desire to volunteer and assist in the fight.”
DeRubeis said she called the organization’s director the same day to say she will bring an awareness walk to Santa Clarita, and now, on the eve of the Saturday’s inaugural walk, she said, “I don’t know if I want to dance or cry. I’m honestly kind of speechless. It’s amazing.”
When she began organizing the race, DeRubeis set a goal to raise $8,000 that would be used to continue community education efforts. She said Tuesday that donors will still be able to contribute to the cause until June 30, even if they’re unable to make it to the race.
“I just want people to walk away with the same sense of hope that I did five years ago,” DeRubeis said. “If our walk helps someone who is struggling with mental health or opens up the eyes of somebody who knows nothing about mental health, then it’s successful.”