Up With Life Walk aims to spread suicide awareness, prevention


By Isabella Arquilla, Contributing writer

The Up With Life Walk makes its debut at the University Sunday, aiming to spread the message of suicide awareness and prevention campus-wide.

Over 170 participants will take part in the 5K walk on the Main Quad. Two of those participants are twins Mady and Jessie Smith, organizers of the Up With Life Walk and RSO.

Students interested can register on the Up With Life website. Registration is $20, which includes a shirt. There is a $10 option with no shirt. Check-in will begin at 11 a.m., and the scheduled speakers will begin at noon.

Mady, sophomore in AHS, and Jessie, sophomore in Education, alongside their family, started the Up With Life organization after their father committed suicide.

“Our dad passed away at the very end of our eighth grade,” Jessie said. “So my older sister was the one who started it all with our help just because she always said that she didn’t want to just sit around and feel bad for herself about it. She wanted to help others. So that’s why it all started.”

When Jessie and Mady attended high school, their family organized the first walk in their hometown of Cambridge, Illinois. Throughout the girls’ high school years, their family arranged three 4K walks in their hometown and raised over $22,000.

“When me and Jessie came here as freshmen, we knew we wanted to bring it to campus,” Mady said. “So then this past year, we finally got enough people to help us out and make this happen.”

The two attended Leadershape, a leadership program that takes place during winter break at the University. That is where they met the five people that now make up the Up With Life Walk executive board and support the organization.

Kelly Mack, junior in Engineering, attended Leadershape with Mady and Jessie. She hopes to volunteer at Sunday’s event because the cause is close to her heart.

“I’ve known a few people who have struggled with depression or have attempted to commit suicide, and it’s a very real thing that not everybody gets exposure to,” Mack said. “But for the people who are affected by it, it’s really important that the rest of us know the signs of it and take measures to support them.”

The walk is attracting the attention of students from outside of the organization, urging them to participate and provide support.

Kyra Puetz, freshman in LAS, plans to attend the walk to support those who suffer from mental illness.

“The topic of suicide is just like something I feel that is really important (to talk about) and try to prevent it,” Puetz said. “I know a couple of people that were affected by mental health issues, so it’s important just to support them.”

Mady and Jessie said they hope people attend this event for the same reason. If people come out and support this cause, others who are suffering will see that they have support on their side and may be more likely to seek help.

“It’s just to spread suicide awareness and prevention and just let families and individuals who have attempted suicide or just have had a loved one commit suicide — to show them support and let everyone know that there are people out there that care and that wanna help make a difference,” Jessie said.

During the walk, signs will be placed throughout the Main Quad that contain motivational sayings such as “you’re not alone.”

All of the event’s proceeds go to NoStigmas, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to battling the stigma against mental illness.

“When someone is feeling sad, or anxious, or anything in general related to mental illness, they can go get help because they don’t feel embarrassed or scared to tell their family,” Mady said.

NoStigmas remains close to the twins’ hearts because of the stigma they noticed surrounding their father’s depression and suicide.

“Before we had experienced suicide in our family, it was just a weird topic,” Jessie said. “Even when it happened, it’s a weird thing to have to tell people, like, ‘oh, my dad committed suicide,’ because there is this huge stigma around the whole thing, and especially on college campuses. It’s just everywhere around campus.”

Other than the 5K walk, there will be performers and speakers at the event.

The Girls Next Door, a female a cappella group, is scheduled to perform. A NoStigmas speaker will speak about his own struggles with depression and suicide. Mady and Jessie will give a testimony to how Up With Life began. Their friend, Isaac Strain, will also share a story about his friend — a student at the University who committed suicide.

“I think the big takeaway that we want people to have from the event is to be supportive of people that are struggling, and just be kind to everyone because you never know who is struggling,” Mady said.

This event comes less than two weeks after University student Westley Banks took his own life.

“Especially with the suicide that happened the past Wednesday, I think it’s something that the campus doesn’t really talk about. It’s much more prevalent than it seems,” Jessie said.

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