Editor’s Note: The phone number for the local Suicide Prevention & Crisis hotline is 607-272-1616.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Nearly 300 people walked for suicide awareness and prevention effort Saturday at the sixth annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk Saturday at Cass Park.

The event raised $9,928 and will continue accepting donations until the end of January. As part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention , the walk funds prevention and mental illness treatment options, and aims to reduce the national rate of suicide by 20 percent by 2025.

“Prevention is pretty much the only thing that’s going to take care of it,” said Maureen Babel, of Cortland.

Maureen Babel (center in pink) walks with family members in memory of her daughter Stephanie Nicole Ioannou, who died by suicide three years ago.

It was her first year at the march since her daughter died by suicide three years ago. She said she meant to come every year, but this is the first one where she felt like she’d be able to make it through the walk.

“It was good for me to do, something I had to do,” she said, saying that about 10 friends and family members joined her, including her son Andreas Ioannou.

Wearing a bright pink shirt that read, “Steps for Steph,” Babel talked about her 15-year-old daughter Stephanie Nicole Ioannou.

She said her daughter was a person who was always smiling, who could light up a room just by walking into it.

“She had a great sense of humor. She was very sweet, full of life,” Babel said. “When it happened it destroyed my family. It was a shock.”

For suicide to happen to her daughter, she said, made her realize how disguised mental illness can be.

“You can’t see what’s inside a person. You can’t see what they’re thinking,” she said.

Stacy Ayres, of Freeville, helped organize the walk. She has also lost family members to suicide, as well as battled her own depression.

She’s had two cousins die from suicide, along with her father who took his life 12 years ago.

“After my dad’s suicide, I learned quickly about depression in my family, as I was finally face-to face with my own depression, learning what bi-polar looked like and how it affected me,” she said. “I am still learning and fighting for myself, my family, and others who have been touched with suicide and mental illness.”

She said she has joined support groups for those who have lost loved ones to suicide and is the board chair of the Central New York chapter of the AFSP. On her right wrist, a semicolon is tattooed, indicating that at a time when she could have ended her life, she kept living.

“Everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide. Together, we can learn the suicide risks and warning signs, and encourage those who struggle to seek help,” she said.

Locally, there are agencies to help people suffering from depression or considering self-harm. The Hillside – Family of Agencies has a list of resources specifically regarding suicide here.  The website also offers people the opportunity to find resources in regard to other struggles including LGBTQ+ issues, youth services, religious services, domestic violence, among many others. To create a customized list of resources, click here.