Arapahoe High community 'honors loved ones lost' at suicide-prevention walk

Event at campus, surrounding neighborhood draws hundreds


The push to end stigma around talking about mental health had several hundred boots on the ground carrying the message in the Arapahoe High School neighborhood.

“By walking with us, you honor the memory of the loved ones you've lost,” said Ry Renshaw, an Arapahoe senior, addressing the crowd before a suicide-prevention walk that would start at the campus.

Renshaw and Brooke Smiley, also an Arapahoe senior, organized the Out of the Darkness walk with help from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a national organization.

“By showing up, you are letting others know they are not alone,” Smiley said, telling the crowd its efforts show that mental health is as important as physical health.

Smiley and Renshaw organized the April 14 walk after two Arapahoe students died by suicide within just days of each other at the end of September and start of October. Littleton Public Schools has said six Arapahoe students have died by suicide since late 2013.

The community hasn't forgotten. The crowd of walkers likely included nearly 1,000 based on registration and walk-up participants, said Sheri Cole, the suicide-prevention foundation's Colorado area director. Many wore blue shirts in memory of a Powell Middle School student who died by suicide in recent years, and students from Rock Canyon and Valor Christian high schools in Highlands Ranch, Cherry Creek High School, and other area schools came to participate, said Kyra Smiley, Brooke's mother, who worked the registration table.

At more than $74,000 raised — shattering its original goal of $12,000 — the walk was one of the suicide-prevention foundation's biggest on-campus walks in the country in 2019, in both fundraising and size, Cole said. The “Out of the Darkness Campus Walks” program is a student fundraising series aimed at engaging youths and young adults, according to the foundation, which funds scientific research and provides resources to those affected by suicide.

Among the parents in the crowd was Jim Hansen, 50, who said blue shirts that read “Decked in blue for the man who flew” were worn in memory of the Powell student who died, a friend of Hansen's son.

“He loved basketball. He could jump — he could fly,” Hansen said, adding that one of his neighbors had the shirts made. “He had such a big heart. He affected so many people.”

Arapahoe Principal Natalie Pramenko praised the suicide-prevention event in the days ahead of it.

“I was just incredibly proud of the girls for their initiative on this,” Pramenko said of Smiley and Renshaw. “They been very close to very hard, hard situations in losing their friends this year, but even in past years, to suicide.”

Pramenko pointed to the school district's Sources of Strength initiative as a resource, a host of programs that encourage connection with parts of life — like family, friends, mentors and healthy activities — that can combat depression and anxiety. Sources of Strength is a widespread project in North America.

Simply talking about mental health is a step Pramenko hopes more people will be willing to take.

“I've read a couple different places (that) kids are comfortable with it, but adults aren't,” Pramenko said. “If someone shows up and maybe never talked about mental health before and walks a 5K with one of our young people and realizes it's OK to talk about, one by one, we can work on spreading this.”

The idea for the walk came from the loss of friends, Renshaw said, but she hopes others can take steps so a suicide doesn't have to affect them.

“I hope the conversation around mental health becomes proactive rather than reactive” as a result of the walk, Renshaw said.

Organizers with the foundation hope the event can continue annually at Arapahoe.

“My hope is that there's a grade below us who has a passion for (raising awareness) and can make it an annual thing,” Smiley said. “And that students can feel comfortable talking about their mental health.”


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