EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Four years ago, two 16-year-olds from East Rutherford had an idea for an event that would draw attention to the growing number of suicides in New Jersey.
In 2013, high school freshman Faith Banca and Rebecca Cruz organized the first "Sing into the Sunlight Concert & Festival," which hosted its fourth annual event Saturday to put a spotlight on suicide prevention and awareness.
The free event at Sesselman Park featured a variety of food vendors and musical performances by GoodWorks, Pursuing JC and Sam Houston. In addition, the festival had arts and crafts, yoga, face painting, a volleyball tournament and more. Booths, handouts and speakers informed attendees about suicide, mental illness and how to live happier lives.
"Almost everyone knows someone dealing with a mental illness that could lead to suicidal thoughts, and if not treated, suicide itself," Banca said.
"Nobody wants to talk about suicide, which hides people who are suffering in the dark. We thought it was important to shine a light on this important issue," Cruz added.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 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. Each year, nearly 43,000 Americans die by suicide, and many attempts go unreported or untreated.
Since the first concert, co-founders Banca and Cruz established the Into the Sunlight organization to raise awareness for suicide prevention and end the stigma of mental illness. The organization has had several other events, including a spaghetti dinner and karaoke nights.
Banca and Cruz are now freshman in college.