Peninsula Hike for Hope inspired by elementary school teacher’s struggle

Amy Lin and Emma Jiang

On first glance, Jaclyn Petty is a young and energetic fourth grade teacher at Juana Briones Elementary School. However, she carries with her an unimaginable pain: the loss of a family member to suicide.

Petty lost her older brother to suicide in November 2016. He was 28 years old, and had suffered from depression for his entire life. In his memory, Petty is organizing the Bay Area’s first ever Peninsula Hike for Hope, an event intended to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention, with the help of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“One of the things that I think is common among people that die by suicide is [that] they feel alone,” Petty said. “One of the big reasons I’m doing this is because as much as I tried as a sister to be there for him, sometimes you just don’t have the answers that they need.”

Event chair and fourth grade teacher Jaclyn Petty is organizing the Peninsula Hike for Hope in memory of her brother, who died by suicide. “He was a very brave, artistic, kind, empathic soul, and he cared a lot about our natural world,” Petty said. “I do a backpack trip in honor of him every summer now because I feel closest to him when I’m in the natural world.”

Petty was also greatly inspired by an Out of the Darkness Walk in San Diego she attended six months after her brother’s death.

“I felt so incredibly alone in my grief, and I felt that no one understood, and then I went to this event,” Petty said. “It was the first step in a healing process for me.”

During the 17-mile walk, she talked to several different people about their experiences.

“Two of the girls I actually walked with for six miles in the end were both survivors of attempting suicide,” Petty said. “They flat out told me one of the reasons we’re still here is because we found these walks, and we’re around people that support us and, all in all, they shouldn’t have been there because of what they had done, and they were lucky enough to survive through that.”

The experience inspired Petty to bring the walks to Palo Alto after she began teaching in this school district two years ago, where mental health has been a prominent issue.

“My first day here, we lost a student at Gunn, and it just hit me, all of a sudden,” Petty said. “I wasn’t aware of how much of an issue youth and young adult suicide is in this area until I started working here. And I hadn’t even lost my brother for a year when I found that out, and it was devastating to me.”

Attendees have the option of wearing beads of different colors that identify them as someone who has struggled with suicide, someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, or just someone who is there to support the cause.

“I don’t want others to feel alone,” Petty said. “Sometimes, it takes one person to connect with that could save your life. Or it could be even something you hear that could give that person the strength just for that day to go on.”

Registration for the Peninsula Hike for Hope opens at 8:30 a.m. on May 19 at Huddart Park in Woodside. The hike begins at 9:30 a.m. and ends at around 11 a.m.

More information about the event can be found here.