CHATHAM, NJ - Jessica Romeo's mother was lost to suicide 20 years ago, but the Chatham Township resident still honors her memory every year.
Like everyone else at the fourth annual "Out of the Darkness" community walk held Saturday
at Cougar Field to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Romeo has a story to tell about someone close to her that she lost to suicide.
Romeo's mother, Rhonda Romeo, was a school nurse at the South Orange Middle School who succumbed to bipolar depression.
"So many students at her funeral came up to us and said that my mother had stopped them from taking their lives," Romeo said. "She had a Hot Chocolate Club at school, where a student who was having a hard time could stay with her until they felt better. She knew how to help so many others, but she couldn't help herself."
Years ago, Romeo participated in an "Out of the Darkness" walk that starts in Virginia at sundown and ends in the Washington, D.C. mall at sunrise.
"You're really walking from the darkness to the light," Romeo said. "We didn't have something like this walk to bring awareness in her day."
The Bead Ceremony before the walk tells the story of someone who was lost to suicide and the person in the ceremony wears a certain color bead to represent that person. Chatham Borough Council member Thad Kobylarz participated in the Bead Ceremony in honor of his best friend from college (see the video below).
Chatham Township Committee member Curt Ritter, the co-chair of the walk, noted that the fourth annual walk was the largest to date, with more than $83,000 raised from the 2019 event. Some of Ritter's opening remarks can be seen below.
Chatham resident Valerie Olpp shares the poem "We Remember Them" before the start of the walk in the video below.
Dan Murphy and Joe Wurtz played the bagpipes as they led the participants in the "Out of the Darkness" community walk.