STEPHENS CITY — Ten years ago Winter Brooks, of Stephens City, lost her son, Steven DeHaven, shortly before his 26th birthday when he died by suicide.
“My son died, and I didn’t know anyone who had the same kind of loss that I did,” Brooks said. “People just didn’t talk about it.”
Brooks and her family started attending the Out of the Darkness walk in Washington, D.C., which benefits the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). While there, she realized that there are others who can listen and have experienced the same kind of loss.
“We attended for four years and realized our own community needed this walk too,” Brooks said. “We want to send the message that mental health is as real as physical health.”
Along with her husband, Ben, and friends Lesia Jones, Traci Swack and Jennifer Joyce, she started an Out of the Darkness walk in Stephens City.
Now in its fifth year, the walk takes place on Saturday at Sherando High School and Sherando Park. Registration begins at 9 a.m. at Sherando High School’s stadium and the walk begins at 10 a.m. The walk will follow the blue trail in Sherando Park.
The first year of the walk, a group of about 100 people raised more than $20,000 for the AFSP. Last year, more than 600 people attended and about $45,000 was raised.
Before Saturday’s walk, participants may choose beads that honor the person for whom they are walking. Honor beads come in nine colors and include white to represent a child, red for a spouse and green for a personal struggle.
“Each color signifies what kind of loss you’re experiencing,” Brooks said. “For me, if I saw someone wearing white beads, I’d know they lost a child and I can connect with them.”
Brooks has made several friends by meeting others wearing white beads.
A banner with the words “remember me” will lead the walk. Participants may write the name of their loved one on the banner before the walk begins.
“You can also paint a stone and leave it somewhere for a loved one,” Brooks said.
Prior to the walk, Sherando High School’s choir will sing, and a moment of silence will be held in remembrance that day.
Speakers and a biodegradable balloon release are set to take place after the walk.
“It’s a very powerful event,” said Brooks. “Not everyone there has lost someone personally, but everyone there knows someone who has or struggles with depression.”
Concern Hotline and other non-profit organizations will also be on hand to provide information about mental illness. Volunteers from Sherando and James Wood High School Key Clubs, as well as Handley High School Interact Club will also be in attendance.
Brooks and her husband also spread suicide awareness in the community.
“My husband and I have been trained to go into businesses and community groups to give introductions on suicide reduction,” she said.
During Suicide Awareness Month in September, Brooks and a friend delivered 2,000 coasters to bars and restaurants in downtown Winchester. One one side of the coaster was information about the walk and on the opposite was a number to call in the case of a crisis.
“It was important to me this year to be able to do that because before Steven died he was at a bar that night downtown,” Brooks said. “And I think that if that coaster had been sitting there that night it might have made a difference.”
The Stephens City Out of the Darkness walk has also won the Top Community Walk Per Capita award from the AFSP two years in a row. As of last week, more than 350 people have registered for this year’s walk.
To register online, visit www.afsp.donordrive.com and find the Stephens City walk page under the “walks” tab.
“We want to be a voice for those not here anymore,” Brooks said. “No one is alone on this journey.”