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Walking for HOPE — and for others

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | August 30, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Hold on. Pain ends.

The message is as simple — and as powerful — as that, organizers of the Walk for HOPE said of their reasons for the eighth annual event.

The annual walk across the Long Bridge — this year set for Sunday, Sept. 3 — highlights suicide awareness, hope, and healing. This year, there will be both in-person and virtual events for the walk.

"I really believe that the more we can break the silence about suicide and mental illness, addictions, and all the things that lead up to suicide, the more inclined someone is to come forward and talk about it and share that they’re struggling and get the help that they need," Walk for HOPE organizer Jennifer Wyman said previously.

The message is one the organization has been spreading since 2015, when the Wyman family lost their daughter, Madi, to suicide at the age of 14. She was a freshman in high school, a member of the JV soccer team, and was involved in both her church youth group and 4-H.

"This unimaginable tragedy not only left our family devastated and heartbroken, but our entire community as well," the Wymans said on the Walk for HOPE website. "… She was beautiful, smart, and talented, with so much positive in her life. How could this happen to our loving family? We will never truly know! What we do know is the pain and devastation that is left behind. The extreme grief deep inside, the anger, the shock, the hole that is left in our family forever."

To honor the teen, the Wymans formed the nonprofit HOPE (Hold On Pain Ends) as well as the walk, held on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, as a way to kick off Suicide Awareness Month.

The goal, Wyman has said, is to spread a message of suicide awareness, hope, and healing. A message that no matter how bad things may seem, there is always tomorrow, there is always someone who cares.

Those who have taken part in past walks said both the message and the visibility support it offers are critical for those who are struggling.

While she is retired now, former school counselor Lynn Bridges has made it a point to take part in the Walk for HOPE every year. It is important for the community to show support, she said previously.

"Part of it, I think, feeling alone and like they're the only one and not understanding that they are certainly not alone in their struggles, but it's hard to see that when you're in pain," she said at the time.

Some attend as a show of faith; others attend simply to let others know that the community cares.

"It's important to walk for suicide awareness and to give the ability for people to understand really what it is, to come together as a community to really help each other and support one another," Casey Reid said previously.

Blue wristbands — in her daughter's favorite shade — are handed out each year to the several hundred participants who take part in the event. Proceeds are used to bring speakers to connect and guide youth and raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health.

On the outside are the words "smile" and "Hold On Pain Ends" — the words behind the group’s name. On the inside, however, is a lifeline for everyone: "Crisis? Text 741-741" — the Suicide Prevention text line.

Also handed out are powder blue balloons and flat river rocks — both to write messages of hope, positive affirmations, or the name of a loved one lost to suicide.

Those who choose the in-person option should gather at Dog Beach, located at the north end of the Long Bridge, with the walk starting at 5 p.m. Those who wish to register on the day of the event should arrive with enough time to do so. Those wishing to do the walk virtually can choose their own path and time Sunday.

Following the walk, hamburgers and hot dogs are provided to encourage community connections.

Registration forms are available at Kokanee Coffee, Sandpoint Furniture, Carpet One, and Selkirk Glass & Cabinets, or you can register online at walkforhopesandpoint.org. All registered participants will receive a T-shirt. T-shirts can be picked up Friday, from noon to 3 p.m., or Saturday, from 8 a.m. to noon, at Kokanee Coffee.

Information: walkforhopesandpoint.org

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)

One of the signs placed along the Long Bridge walking bridge during the 2022 Walk for HOPE.

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)

A message of hope was created using rocks found at Dog Beach at the start of the 2022 Walk for HOPE.

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)

Walk for HOPE participants walk across the Long Bridge during the 2022 Walk for HOPE.