WEST ORANGE, NJ – On Oct. 6, the West Orange STOP Suicide Advocacy Coalition (WOSAC) will be hosting a “West Orange Run for Zach” at the Rock Spring Golf Club located at 90 Rock Spring Drive in West Orange starting at 4 p.m.

The event comes at the culmination of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which was recognized in the Township of West Orange at the request of WOSAC founder Tammy Williams. It will be held in honor of Zach Masserder, a Class of 2011 West Orange High School (WOHS) graduate and lifelong resident of West Orange who struggled with mental health issues and substance abuse before dying by suicide in 2018.

“The Run for Zach 5K was an idea inspired by Zach’s mom,” said Williams, adding that since Masserder’s mother was “having a hard time dealing with the loss of her son,” the coalition decided to sponsor and host a 5K in order to “increase awareness in our community.”

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According to WOSAC, this run will also serve to “support his legacy and raise funds to promote suicide awareness and prevention in [the West Orange] community.” WOSAC also hopes that increased awareness will also “decrease the occurrence of suicide in West Orange and beyond.”

According to a statement written on behalf of his family, Masserder was very vocal, opinionated and steadfast in his beliefs, which led himself to being stubborn. Also known as the “life of the party,” the young man had many interests that influenced his possible career aspirations of modeling and acting.

He loved his family and even had plans to marry his girlfriend of four-and-a-half years so that they could build their future together.

“Zach was the last person you would think of that would abruptly, tragically, and violently end his 24-year young life that was filled with abounding potential,” the statement continued.

The WOSAC, founded in June 2019, has been working to educate the public and provide resources for those in need and to first responders through events hosted throughout September.

One of those events occurred at WOHS, where for the second year, students, staff and supporting organizations provided a platform to express emotions, positivity and how to get help.

Members of the student council, the WOHS Student Assistance Counselors, Grassroots Community Foundation and the WOSAC spent their lunch periods during the week of Sept. 8 to Sept. 14 providing information on suicide prevention and encouraging students to share tips on how they deal with stress.

“There’s been a lot more interest and participation this year,” said student council member Victoria Bratsos. “Kids are talking about it."

Fellow student council member Senay Dani added that he was happy with the response from students and that the SAC counselors on hand were extremely helpful.

During the week, emphasis was made on removing the stigma associated with mental health and its challenges. Students were encouraged to listen to one another and offer a smile, a kind word, or a simple act of caring to support struggling peers.

A wall filled with post-its outside the Tarnoff Cafeteria answered the question “What do you do when you’re stressed out?” Even the simplest things, like focusing, taking deep breaths, or a quick walk can help de-stress.

Also shared were statistics that merited the campaign, such as the following:

  • One in five teenagers will experience depression before they reach adulthood.
  • About eight percent of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms starting around age 6.
  • More than 500,000 kids each year report to the hospital because of self-harm injury.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24.
  • More than 3,000 suicide attempts are made each day by children in grades 9 through 12.

Through Saturday’s race, the WOSAC hopes to encourage others who are struggling to ask for help when they are in need and help them know that they are loved.

Registration for the race will open at 2:30 p.m., with runners to start at 4 p.m. and walkers to start at 4:15 p.m.

According to Williams, highlights of the events will include music, vendors, mental health practitioners and food trucks for a “fun-filled afternoon” at Rock Spring Golf Club.

This event is open to the community and people of all ages are welcome to attend.

For more information, visit the WOSAC’s website www.westorangesuicideadvocacycoalition.com or contact Williams at twmsblackwell@gmail.com or 973-219-7687.