EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.– Faith Banca and Rebecca Cruz of East Rutherford both dealt with anxiety and depression.
"It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about," said Cruz, 19.
"I saw that the issue was bigger than I realized, that a lot of people around me were suffering as well," added Banca, 19.
Together they created Into the Sunlight and aimed to raise awareness for suicide prevention, end the stigma of mental illnesses, and help people find happiness in their lives through multiple events, Cruz said.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in New Jersey for 24-34 year olds and the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"Almost everyone knows someone dealing with a mental illness that could lead to suicidal thoughts, and if not treated, suicide itself," said Banca.
Three years ago, Banca and Cruz – then Becton Regional High School students – organized a benefit concert "Sing Into the Sunlight."
Since then, there's been four more concerts and two spaghetti dinners featuring karaoke called "Dine Into the Sunlight."
"When we came together, it was like we were helping others and each other," said Cruz, a journalism major at Bergen Community College. "We speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves."
"We hope to shine a light in suicide and let people know they are not alone," added Banca, a psychology major at Wilkes University.
When they aren't studying, "We're using our new knowledge base and connections to continue to expand the organization," Cruz said.
The most recent "Sing Into the Sunlight" concert was at Sesselman Park on June 11. It featured performances by GoodWorks, Pursuing JC and Sam Houston.
The plan is to create more events – a walk and a motorcycle run, for example – and to bring in guest speakers at local high schools.
Banca and Cruz also offer volunteer hours to high school students.
"It allows the youth in town to feel like SITS is a place where they can feel accepted and not have to worry about people calling them crazy because they have a mental illness," Cruz said.
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