Nearly 400 people from Sandpoint and beyond showed their support in promoting suicide prevention and awareness, hope and healing by attending the Walk for Hope on Sunday, September 4. The inaugural event faor the new non-profit organization, Walk for Hope Sandpoint, has a mission that is simple yet powerful – to spread awareness of suicide prevention. The walk started on the bike path at Dog Beach on the north side of the Long Bridge at 5pm, with the course going across the bridge and back as the sun set over Lake Pend Oreille. Groups of friends and families made the journey together, carrying blue balloons with H.O.P.E. printed on them. The acronym stands for “Hold On Pain Ends,” a slogan that co-founders discovered when looking for ways to spread their message. Messages of hope were also displayed on poster boards along the course –“Every day is a second chance” and “You are loved”– compassionate affirmations serving as valuable reminders.
September is suicide prevention month, and soon it will be the one-year anniversary of the passing of a local teenager. On November 2, 2015, 15-year-old Sandpoint High School student, beloved friend and daughter, Madison Wyman took her own life. She was a freshman, a member of the JV soccer team, was an active member of her youth group and the local 4-H program, and had her whole life ahead of her.
“Losing Madi was such a devastating experience,” said Jennifer Wyman, mother of Madison and co-founder of Walk for Hope. “We wanted to create something that gave us hope and would help us heal.”
The inspiration for Walk for Hope came from fellow classmate and close friend of Madi’s, 15-year-old Curtis Hauck, who just started his sophomore year at Sandpoint High School.
“After it happened, I noticed that our community was down and in shock about what was going on. I thought we needed to do something about it,” Curtis recalled. So he searched online, found the idea for a walk and decided to give it a try.
“When it happened to my son’s best friend, it was heart breaking to see him struggling and depressed,” explained Curtis’ mother, Jennifer Hauck, also a Walk for Hope co-founder. “And then he came up with this idea.” Jennifer Hauck, who has worked in mental health and has a background in psychology, then joined with Jennifer Wyman and together the three of them got the ball rolling.
“Jennifer [Hauck] has been his biggest advocate in achieving his dream, and helped to get his cause out there and get this going.” Wyman said. “Curtis has the teenager perspective, and we bring the family and parent perspective to the table. Together, we have made a great team and that has unified to help a great cause,” Hauck added.
This year’s Walk for Hope had nearly 400 participants and raised over $11,000 through registration and sponsorships. The organization plans to use the funds to provide tools and assistance to those in need, both individuals and families. They also want to provide the resources to improve and bring light to the youth culture in our community. Walk for Hope aims to do this by providing influential speakers to the high school, counseling for troubled teens, as well as classes for parents on how to reach out and talk to your teens.
“We need to learn how to talk about the uncomfortable things,” Jennifer Wyman stated. “You have to say the words, you have to be direct. You have to say the word ‘suicide.’”
Friends and family of the Haucks and Wymans helped spread the word about Walk for Hope, and that same weekend, a Walk for Hope was held in Cottage Grove, Oregon on Friday, September 2 at a local park as well as a Walk for Hope in Arbuckle, California which took place on Sunday, September 4, the same evening as our local event and at the same time.
“I want this to become a big organization, where you can start a walk in your own community and the funds raised will stay there,” said Curtis. “It will be a more personalized organization that really gives back to each individual community.” His mother shares his dream. “Hopefully this will become a national endeavor,” she said.
Walk for Hope Sandpoint plans to hold a walk every September to spread awareness and fundraise. “This year is about getting it up and running, next year just tweaking things.” Wyman stated. “Ideally, this would be an annual event so we have funds every year to fund the programs we need.”
For more information about Walk for Hope Sandpoint or on future events, visit their website at walkforhopesandpoint.org, or their Facebook page. Donations may be sent to Walk for Hope Sandpoint at any time and receipts for tax deductions are available upon request.