The first local walk of its kind designed to inspire teens to celebrate life and connect with adults who can guide them through personal challenges or thoughts of suicide will take place Saturday in La Crescenta.
The idea for the walk came from Mark Yeager, a chaplain at the YMCA of the Foothills, who was searching for a meaningful way to involve the community in addressing numerous recent teen suicides by providing resources to high school students.
During the past year and a half, Yeager said he has known of nine teens in the YMCA of the Foothills’ coverage area who have committed suicide.
The YMCA serves an area that includes Montrose, La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge, Sun Valley and Lake View Terrace.
“It just came to me,” he said. “What would it be like if we had a life walk, if we invited teenagers and our families to participate in?”
But how to attract teens to participate in an event at 10 a.m. on a Saturday?
Yeager plans to give away a car at the walk. The make and model of the vehicle remain under wraps for now, he said, but he hinted, “A teenager will really like to have this car.”
The car will be on display at Verdugo Hills, Clark Magnet, Crescenta Valley and La Cañada high schools at various times during this coming week.
The car drawing on Saturday requires that students be enrolled in high school or home-schooled.
The walk will begin from two points — La Cañada City Hall and the Verdugo Hills YMCA. Participants will meet in the middle at Rosemont Middle School, where various organizations including the CV Alliance (formerly the Crescenta Valley Drug & Alcohol Prevention Coalition) and the Sheriff’s Explorers will hold a life-skills fair.
Yeager said he anticipates that teens will choose to walk in honor of friends who have taken their own lives, and said the event will prove successful no matter how many teens show up.
“If 10 kids show up, I’m going to be happy. If a few hundred kids show up, that’s what I expect. If more than a few hundred kids show up, this should be a sign that we continue to do this for the community,” he said, adding that he intends to establish the walk as an annual event.
Karen Carlson, a mental health services coordinator for Glendale Unified, promoted the walk during the Glendale school board meeting this week and said the district has been working to meet students’ emotional needs.
“And to that purpose, we’ve been actively engaging in honest dialogue with our community partners about the signs of [potential suicide] and ways to intervene when our students are at risk of self-harm,” she said.
A common myth is that if someone thinks a loved one may be suicidal, confronts them and mentions the word “suicide,” it would provoke their friend or relative to go through with it, according to Amy Lambert, assistant superintendent of special education for Glendale Unified.
“The message we’re trying to give people is you shouldn’t be afraid to ask those difficult questions if you think someone’s at risk for self-harm,” Lambert said. “You should be comfortable having those frank discussions … and not to be afraid of that word.”
Yeager said he values the importance of adults communicating with teens with compassion and respect for their opinions.
“There’s one thing that everybody can do,” he said. “That would be to talk to them.... I think we would have greater success in having open communication.”
Start: Verdugo Hills YMCA and La Cañada City Hall, 10 a.m. Saturday
End: Rosemont Middle School, where a life-skills fair will begin at around 10:45 a.m.
Drawing: Drawing for a free car will begin around 12:15 p.m.
Register: Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, 1930 Foothill Blvd. in La Cañada, or the Verdugo Hills YMCA, 6840 Foothill Blvd. in Tujunga.
-- Kelly Corrigan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.