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Everyone is invited out to have a good time for an important cause Saturday during the free Making a Difference Suicide Awareness Movement Unity Walk in Winchester.

The theme for this eighth annual event is “Stomping out Suicide.” The community is urged to put on their cowboy hat, bandanas and boots and come on out anytime from noon to 5 p.m. at the Red Roof Pavilion in the Winchester City Park.

The event is held in partnership with MAD SAM, the House of Blessings, the Rain Teen Center/Camp Rain and the Franklin County Prevention Coalition. The premier sponsor is Moore-Cortner Funeral Home.

The afternoon of fun and information will feature a concert by Alison McCormick, a free kids zone, free barbecue dinner, information booths on depression, addiction and suicide prevention, craft vendors, cake walks, a pig race, face painting, hair spraying, bingo and an auction among other activities.

 One lucky cowboy or cowgirl may also be taking home a hog from the hog raffle sponsored by Weaver Farms and processed by Mac’s Meat Processing.

Tammy Nance Bolz, one of the organizers of the event said, “This is the eighth year for the MAD SAM Unity Walk, and we really want to take the stigma away from suicide and let people see that there are others who are in the same situation at the unity walk as well as survivors of suicide attempts and many others who will be there to provide support and information.

“And we make the Unity Walk all free now so that everyone can go. We invite lots of families, and we don’t want anyone to not be able to go due to financial reasons.”

Nance hopes this year’s unity walk will provide more awareness and information about suicide prevention. She said it is especially important now as reports show the suicide rate in Franklin County is rising, according to the latest reports from 2016 and 2017.

“Four years ago, Franklin County had the highest suicide rate among teens in the state,” Nance said.

In 2016, there were seven reported suicides in Franklin County and in 2017, the number increased to 11, she said.

 “Through MAD SAM’s sponsors, we hope to be able to help pay for counseling, whether it’s for depression, addiction or other issues,” Nance said. “We want anyone who might be contemplating suicide to know that it is not the answer.”

Nance said that those who commit suicide may sometimes see it as a way to get away from financial problems, but that the burdens they leave behind for the family increase tenfold with grief, funeral expenses and other bills that insurance will not take care of.

Spreading suicide awareness among youths is a top mission for MAD SAM and one of the ways they plan to accomplish that is by raising money to build a cabin at Camp Rain.

The cabin will be used to inform young campers on what to look for and how to get help if they believe one of their peers is depressed or may be thinking of ending their life.  

“The cabin at Camp Rain will be used to educate youngsters using a video that helps explain suicide prevention, what to look and listen for among their friends,” Nance said.

A memory wall will be set up at the unity walk with everyone invited to bring photos to honor a loved one lost to suicide. Nance explained the significance of the memory wall.

“Every time someone at the unity walk sees a family member stopping to look at a photo of their loved one on the memory wall and sees the emotions they have, how it still affect them, we are just hoping that anyone who might be contemplating suicide will see that pain it leaves behind.”

Nance said MAD SAM’s mission remains true and steadfast: “To bring a greater awareness to the warning signs of suicidal behavior, bring a sense of hope and strength to those considering suicide and to offer support for loved ones left behind by this silent epidemic. Break the silence. Be the change.”

For more information on the memory wall, contact Gina Steele at 931-308-0574.

Anyone who may be contemplating suicide is urged to talk to someone in confidence by calling 1-800-273-8255.

For more information, visit MADSAMinc.com or email Madsamwinchester@gmail.com.