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The annual Out of the Darkness Walk in Telluride will still take place Sunday at 10 a.m., starting in Elks Park. (Courtesy photo)

Fresh air and social causes are both key pieces of life in the box canyon. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed many aspects of daily social interactions, Telluride’s community is finding creative ways to come together. On Sunday, the annual Out of the Darkness Walk will look a little different than years past, but the core message remains the same: stronger together.

“We really wanted to do an in-person event,” explained Sami Damsky, who first brought the event to Telluride four years ago and now works as the behavioral health outreach coordinator at Tri-County Health Network. 

“Someone asked me at the bike park if we were walking together this year. And it’s sweet that people do come every year. It's really important to show up and have a presence.”

On Sunday, locals and visitors are encouraged to gather at Elks Park to participate in the walk at 10 a.m. The march will lead down Main Street and finish at Telluride Town Park. All participants are asked to wear a mask and respect social distancing during the walk. 

This is the fourth year that Tri-County Health Network and the Colorado Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention have organized the event in Telluride. Normally Colorado offers seven walks, but this year only the one in Telluride is scheduled, Damsky noted. 

“This year, we're the only in-person walk happening. Denver is having a drive-in experience, but that's a little different,” Damsky said. 

Out of the Darkness Walk is a national event organized to increase awareness of the fight for suicide prevention. Across the United States, approximately 250,000 people participate in walks in their hometowns. The aim of the initiative is to spread awareness and to decrease stigmas surrounding suicide and mental health. In the United States, one in every five families is affected by suicide. 

With COVID-19, mental health is even more important, noted Corinne Cavender, behavioral health operations coordinator at Tri-County Health.

“We want to make sure that people know that their mental health matters,” said Cavender in an interview with the Daily Planet. “We just want to show the community that even in hard times, even when we have to navigate new situations differently, that this is still an important issue.”

Cavender started working at Tri-County Health last year. The same year, a personal loss helped drive her to commit some of her professional work to suicide prevention.

“Right before suicide prevention month last year, I had a friend who died by suicide,” Cavender said. “Once I had it happen to me I realized how many people in our community are affected by suicide. It definitely proves the gravity of the issue.”

With the new restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus, the event will look a bit different this year, Cavender noted. The usual food tables and performances cannot happen as usual, but the walk itself remains fairly unchanged. 

The event is free and open to everyone, although there will be opportunities for donations that will go towards suicide prevention, research, education, advocacy and support. Donations go towards both local initiatives and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s education and support programs. In the three previous years, the event raised $25,000 in total, Damsky reported. 

To continue to support the community and mental health in the valley, the San Miguel Behavioral Health Solutions panel devoted additional funding to several initiatives, particularly the Good Neighbor Fund. 

“You can access behavioral health funds to see a therapist or other services that you might not be able to afford especially with COVID hitting,” said Cavender. 

Additionally there are grants available for schools and other organizations wishing to learn more about suicide prevention. There are also trainings with Tri-County Health professionals that locals can sign up for, Cavender added. 

“It’s a rural community, but we do have resources. And a lot of people just don't know about then,” she said.

“It’s important to come together in the community, especially in these times. Suicide touches almost everyone. Just being there for fellow community members is really special. I think it can be really profound.”

Anyone interested in joining can register and create a fundraising page at afsp.org/swco.