Suicide leaves tragedy in its wake and preventing it is a goal of the Waukegan Cares Foundation. The Foundation raised about $6,000 for the Lake County Suicide Prevention Task Force with its third annual 'Wauk For Awareness' last week at Founders Park in Beach Park. The 5K event was preceded by opening remarks from Waukegan Alderman Sam Cunningham, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim.
Cunningham has been a part of the awareness movement since three Waukegan police officers took their own life in a two year span approximately four years ago, according to Det. Tom Granger. Both Curran and Nerheim have shown strong support for the cause as well.
Saturday's event was far more than just a walk as there were several other activities for kids and families to do, and everything was completely free. Donations from area businesses made this day possible. This event provided more and has people taking part because they want to, not because they feel obligated.
Saturday's event had approximately 20 tables and booths consisting of agencies throughout the county that provide services for mental health, substance abuse, grief counseling, PTSD and others.
There were wellness and health screenings, and even massages. In addition to a free lunch, there was a bouncy house for the kids and a K9 demonstration provided by the Lake County Sheriff's Department.
The Beach Park Fire Department had a fire truck and rescue squad on display, but the big hit of the day was the dunk tank which featured the “Dunk a Cop," Sgt. Gabe Guzman, of Waukegan was up first, followed by Sheriff Curran and then others from the Zion Police Department and the Sheriff's Department.
The Waukegan Cares Foundation's founder, Jennifer Granger, is married to a Waukegan police officer and said that after she saw Waukegan lose three officers to suicide, she knew she had to do something. Granger formed the foundation, partnered with the Lake County Suicide Prevention Task Force, and organized what now has become an annual event.
About 200 people participated in the walk at Founders Park and 'too many to count' gave their support. The event has grown each year. "The park is huge and this was a great place to have it. We thank the Village of Beach Park for hosting us this year," Granger said.
In addition to raising money for the task force, this year Embracing the Badge, a wellness group within the Waukegan Police Department, joined in. Next year she hopes more organizations join in and that the awareness day event continues to grow.
The task force works with several other agencies around the county in providing services for those in crisis as well as services for families, friends, and coworkers left behind after a suicide, according to Det. Granger.