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A safe community 

Christine Claxton's son died by suicide seven years ago, and it took her a few years before she felt like she could talk about it.

Five years later, Claxton said it dawned on her that her son's story didn't end on the day he died. Now, she gets to share it with members of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention SLO Chapter, legislators, and the community at large.

"He's taken me on a ride that we never expected; it's great," she said.

Claxton volunteers with the foundation's local chapter as a board member. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention focuses on four things: funding suicide prevention research, educating the community about prevention, advocating for public policy, and supporting those who struggle with suicide ideation and those who have lost someone to suicide.

Claxton said that in order to fund all of those focus areas, the local chapters host the Out of Darkness Walk, planned this year for Oct. 12. Out of Darkness is a 2-mile walk around Downtown SLO that starts at Mission Plaza at 10 a.m., but it's much more than that.

There will be a resource fair, a quiet space complete with therapy dogs and soft music where attendees can relax if they feel overwhelmed, on-site counselors, and speakers before the walk commences.

"What it really does is bring people together because people that are walking have some connection to suicide, whether they've struggled or they've lost someone," she said. "The connections and healing that happens is amazing."

Cerra Himel's favorite part about the walk is the beaded necklaces that attendees receive at the start of the event. Each color bead represents a friend or family member who has died by suicide. Some people wear one necklace and some wear multiple.

At one point, Claxton will get on stage and ask the crowd to hold up their beads, one color at a time.

"And she says, 'Now take a look around,' and it's silent. In that moment, you have something so raw, real, and so intimate with all these strangers," Himel said. "Without saying anything, you know exactly what they've been through, and they know exactly what it's like."

Himel describes it as a pause in the universe—to honor all of those who are gone and said it feels very powerful to her. She lost her brother to suicide when he was just 16 and she was about to turn 14.

She said losing her brother was extremely tough because they were so close, but Himel decided she wanted to honor her brother by doing everything her brother wouldn't be able to. Himel volunteered, pursued a double major in college, and currently works at Sierra Vista Regional.

Himel didn't find her true calling until she started working with Claxton on Out of Darkness—she's participated in the walk for three years now.

"The first year, there were 15 people, and last year there were 700 people. Every year it's getting bigger, and all that shows is there's people that want to talk about it," she said.

One of the main things to remember, Himel said, is no one is alone at the event or in the community. Plus, she added, there are resources, and no one has to share their personal story. It's a safe place.

Registration for the Out of Darkness Walk is free and donations will be accepted until Dec. 31. For more information, email cclaxton.afsp@gmail.com.

Fast facts

Cuesta College added a new California Naturalist Program to its list of offerings to students. To become a certified California naturalist, participants must take a course offered by a partner organization such as Cuesta College Community Programs. Each six-hour class consists of lectures, field trips, guest speakers, and activities totaling more than 40 hours of instruction designed to enhance the understanding of local ecosystems and environmental processes. The class meets on eight Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sept. 13 through Nov. 1. To learn more or register for the program, visit cuesta.edu/communityprograms and look for the program under the "outdoors, nature, and science" category. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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