Hills club participates in ‘Out of the Darkness Walk’

Organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, volunteers walked to support the mission of saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. 


Kaitlyn Verde

Gaeta (left) and Sachs-Serfess (right) with Hills students that participated in the walk this year.

On Oct. 16, the Pascack Hills Cares club participated in Bergen County’s ‘Out of the Darkness Walk.’ Organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), volunteers walked to support the mission of saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. 

Michelle Gaeta and Jessica Sachs-Serfess are the faculty advisors of the non-profit club, which focuses on the importance of mental health awareness, suicide prevention, and spreading kindness. 

Throughout the month of October, members collected online donations that go directly to the AFSP for research, funding educational programs, and advocating public policy. They also posted resources on social media and sent emails to spread awareness to the Hills community. 

Hills junior and PH Cares Executive Board member Lily Plechner said, “I’m so glad that our school has a club that emphasizes the importance of mental health. The walk is one of my favorite ways to get involved and spread this message. I’m excited to play an active role in what we are planning this year.”

At the event were honor beads of different colors for participants to wear, building community relationships and uniting the volunteers. The necklaces show each individual’s personal struggle and help others identify those who understand their experience. 

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Necklaces like these were given out at the walk. Those who wore red necklaces did it in honor of losing a spouse or partner.

The walk was virtual due to Covid-19 but returned to the Saddle River County Park in 2021. 

“The best part was how open it was,” said Derek Geier, a member of the club who attended the walk, “It was taking these mental health issues and putting them in the spotlight. It was very much an event where people were not afraid…I think putting that into a public event where everyone is accepting towards this topic and normalizing [mental health] is a very hopeful sign that progress is being made.”

Gaeta and Sachs-Serfess answered questions for the Trailblazer.  

Kaitlyn Verde: What made you start PH Cares?

Michelle Gaeta: When we first started the PH Cares Club, we made this club because of a student that we had lost that died by suicide. 

Jessica Sachs-Serfess: It was birthed out of…this was our love child when we were grieving her loss. 

KV: What is the main message or goal of the club? How is it being implemented this year?

JS: We want to spread awareness and provide resources and literature for students in terms of mental health and suicide prevention.

MG: And we are trying to implement that this year in terms of creating challenges for students to do acts of kindness as well as promoting mental health awareness, suicide prevention, and self care. We are going to be trying some activities throughout the year that would enable students to get involved in those hands-on activities.

KV: What is the ‘Out of the Darkness Walk?’ What is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and how does it relate to the club?

JS: The ‘Out of the Darkness Walk’ is something that we’ve been participating in for about four years.

MG: I think even maybe more, maybe five, possibly. 

JS: We found [the walk] through the AFSP, which is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, because our club’s mission is to focus on mental health and suicide prevention, and the ‘Out of the Darkness Walk’ is a community event at a local park where people gather to support the cause. The whole out of the darkness…these walks originally started out as walks at night into the dusk to be metaphorical for overcoming mental health issues and struggles.

MG: And the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is this national non-profit organization that basically is providing research, funding, and activities for those who have been affected by suicide as well as for people who are struggling. Our club had raised over a thousand dollars and we actually went on the walk and we had some students who came and joined us along with some parents as well. 

KV: Why is it important that you and other club members participated?

JS: For both of us, I think, it’s important because we are very committed to this cause. We want to make sure that our labor of love…we keep expanding on our efforts from years before and we honor the memory of the student that we lost and loved so dearly and also to help current students that are struggling. It’s the club itself [that] has grown exponentially since we started, which is also something we are very proud of.

MG: And it’s important for our students to see that mental health awareness is so prevalent in American culture and it’s had such an impact on so many of us. I think the more that we participate in activities like this and show support and love for each other that it will help others to feel better.