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Didi Hirsch center fundraiser raises nearly $500,000

LOS ANGELES — With actress Catherine Hicks as emcee, suicide prevention advocaten Talinda Bennington as speaker, the 21st annual Alive & Running Walk/Run for Suicide Prevention surpassed its goal, raising nearly $500,000 for Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services’ Suicide Prevention Center.

The record-breaking event, held just north of Los Angeles International Airport wrapped up Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month Sept. 29 and drew more than 2,700 participants. 

Thelife-affirming event remembers loved ones and raises funds and awareness for the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center — the first and most comprehensive in the nation. Founded in 1958, the center recently relocated to Century City to expand its national reach by nearly doubling the counselors answering its 24/7 multilingual crisis line and increasing services for people affected by suicide. 

Didi Hirsch offers training to help people recognize and respond to warning signs and support groups for people who have attempted or are bereaved by suicide. Didi Hirsch also now has teen suicide bereavement support groups as part of the new Everychild Suicide Prevention Project. 

Over the past 21 years, Alive & Running has raised nearly $4 million for the Suicide Prevention Center. 

“Whether you’ve thought about suicide or you’re worried about someone or you’ve lost someone you love, as long as you are alive and running or alive and walking, there is help and hope,” Hicks said. “People do not reach out for help if they are ashamed. That is why it is so important to talk about suicide. 

“When we remember loved ones and learn the warning signs, we are helping to erase stigma. And when people are comfortable reaching out for help, lives are saved.”

Talinda Bennington, who lost her husband, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, to suicide in 2017, spoke at the event while accompanied onstage by their 7-year-old daughter, Lily.

“Chester overcame a childhood filled with abuse and drugs to become an incredible musical artist,” Bennington said. “He brought joy to tens of millions of fans, but he struggled with depression and substance use. As his wife and partner, I often felt scared and alone.”

She partnered with Give an Hour and the Campaign to Change Direction to launch 320 Changes Direction —  an effort to streamline mental health resources, and named in honor of her husband, whose birthday was March 20.

“As many of you know, the pain doesn’t go away but it changes,” Bennington added. “And you find out that the death of a soulmate or a dad doesn’t mean the death of you. 

“To everyone touched by suicide, I know how much you miss your loved one. But please know the human heart has almost endless room for grief, joy, happiness, sadness … and love.”

Didi Hirsch’s 2019 Mental Health Ambassador Alex Boyé performed at the event for the second year in a row, while TV personality Eric Bigger, a finalist on the 13th season of “The Bachelorette,” led the warm up. 

On-air talent from Power 106 and KDAY helped with announcements and music and brought an art installation in the shape of the words “What is Your Why?” for people to write on.

Didi Hirsch President/CEO Kita S. Curry encouraged people to learn the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255 and then demonstrated how iPhone’s Siri will connect you to help if you ask about suicide. 

“Depression is a treatable illness, just like allergies are treatable,” Curry said. “We have so much to offer people, and you’re going to know about it when you leave.”

Curry presented the Community Partner Award to Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, which provided $2.3 million in funding to support the Suicide Prevention Center.

Pamela Kluft, vice chair of Didi Hirsch’s Board of Directors and chair of the event, presented the Inspiration Award to Miguel Serricchio, who joined a Didi Hirsch support group after his 20-year-old son, Alejandro, died by suicide and now co-leads groups in Spanish for others grieving a loss, and Michael Lynch, a marathon runner who has had a team at the 5K every year since his brother died by suicide in 2007.

Board Chair Chris Harrer presented the Hope Award to Juanita Benitez, the captain of Team H.O.P.E (Hold-On-Pain-Ends), who helps raise awareness about suicide in the Latino community by talking about losing both her father and brother to suicide, and brings dozens of family and friends to the race each year.

Wave Staff Report