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Hike for Hope promotes positive mental health

Hoping to raise awareness about suicide prevention, a PAUSD teacher created the inaugural Peninsula Hike for Hope, which will take place at Huddart Park on May 19.

Jaclyn Petty, who teaches fourth grade at Juana Briones Elementary School, organized the event with the Bay Area chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). According to Petty, everyone is welcome at the event.

Two years ago, Petty’s brother died by suicide, which inspired her to go on the Out of the Darkness Hike, a 17-mile nighttime walk which takes place in cities across the country.

The Out of the Darkness Hike asks participants to choose colored beads to wear, each color indicating a reason for being at the hike, such as knowing someone who has died by suicide.

“I started seeing people wearing these beads and people talking to each other,” Petty said. “People (were) opening up because you’re surrounded by all these people that aren’t afraid to talk about a topic that has such a stigma on it.”

Petty said the Hike for Hope will use this system as well, allowing people to connect and relate to each other as she has seen at the Out of the Darkness Hike.

In planning the event, Petty told her story to AFSP and began working closely with ASFP’s Northern California Area Director Ryan Ayers to make her event a reality. Additionally, Petty asked for community volunteers, including the Juana Briones faculty.

Debbie Lombardi-Lytle, a physical education teacher at Juana Briones, is one of the volunteers helping the Hike for Hope. Like Petty, Lombardi-Lytle had been personally affected by suicide. A few months ago, one of her friends from high school died by suicide.

“As a teacher in this school district, I’ve certainly been affected by our rise in suicide rates for our students. I had a few of my former students that have been in that category.”

Debbie Lombardi-Lytle

Lombardi-Lytle has helped promote and organize the event and because of her background in physical education, she will help participants with their warmups before the hike.

While volunteering, Lombardi-Lytle also says she’s discovered a “source of comfort” in the many parents and teachers who have also been affected by suicide.

“There have just been many blessings from working on this hike,” Lombardi-Lytle said. “I’m looking forward to the event.”

Tom Culbertson, another 4th-grade teacher at Juana Briones who is volunteering at the event, said he has never been personally affected by suicide but was familiar with Petty’s experience.

“When she put out the call for volunteers, I knew I had to help.”

Tom Culbertson

Culbertson worked on publicizing the event locally and on social media. Throughout his experience, he said he discovered a support system he wasn’t aware of before.

“Through my work on this event, I’ve come into contact with family members affected by suicide,” Culbertson said. “It’s been humbling. I’m in awe of the strength and vulnerability these folks are willing to display in their quest to make a difference.”

The Peninsula Hike for Hope has already raised over $10,000 for suicide prevention research. The event starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m

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