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Coming out of the dark

"It seemed like such a wonderful way to celebrate his birthday that year," she said.

This year, Graham was approached by the director of the Central New York chapter of the AFSP, who asked her if she would be interested in setting up a community walk here in Onondaga County.

"I was very happy to do so," Graham said. "My goal is to hold a walk every year."

Graham hopes the walks will raise community awareness not only of suicide prevention but of the organization itself.

"We're a new organization," she said. "Not too many people are aware of it. We're hoping to get the name out there and make people aware of the programs the AFSP offers."

A true community walk

Despite the weather, the turnout for the event was excellent; Willow Bay's parking lot was packed, and runners and walkers crowded the paths provided for them. In addition to individuals, many community organizations, including Ophelia's Place, Family Tapestry, Onondaga Case Management and the CNY Depression and Bipolar Disorder Support Group, took part in the event.

The event was largely made possible by corporate sponsors, including Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, BJ's Wholesale Club, Fleet Feet Sports, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Huhtamaki Paper Products, among others. A banner in the registration tent thanked those sponsors for their support.

Also in the registration tent hung stark reminders of the reasons for the walk. Memory quilts featuring pictures of those who had been lost to suicide, favorite quotes and messages from families lined the interior and exterior of the tent, as did posters featuring Graham's son and another young boy whose life ended too soon.

In March of 2001, Timothy O'Clair, 12, hung himself in his bedroom closet. Timothy and his family had battled his mental illness for five years. His parents, though covered by health insurance, couldn't afford proper treatment for him because of limits on the insurance coverage provided for those with mental problems.

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