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Purgatory Road Returns, Funds Bring Kevin Hines to Dalton
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:50AM / Monday, September 26, 2022
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Kevin Hines, who survived a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, will speak at Wahconah Regional High School on Monday about suicide prevention.

DALTON, Mass. — "Purgatory Road," a long-standing spooky event that raises money for suicide prevention, is back this year.

Attendees will be taken through a "cursed haunted mansion" themed trail in the woods behind the Dalton CRA. The event will run on Oct. 14, 15, and 21 from 7 to 10 p.m. and all proceeds support the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

The fundraiser was started by Joann Farrell and Betsy Nichols 11 years ago and has raised about $200,000 since. It usually draws about 300 people per night.

This year, the effort has brought a globally known activist to Dalton.

"We did it for eight years and we were going to stop but with COVID, we decided that we needed to restart our efforts," Nichols explained.

"We went to the [Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention] last year and said that we really wanted them to hire a speaker for the kids, one that could really make an impact, so that's where Kevin Hines comes into play this year."

With funds from previous years, suicide prevention activist Kevin Hines will speak at Wahconah Regional High School on Monday at 7 p.m. He will present to the high school students in the morning and at night he will host the hourlong event that is open to students and families of Berkshire County schools.

In 2000, Hines survived a suicide attempt after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  Immediately after leaping, he realized he still had the will to live and has since spoken to the world about his experience.

Hines has also written a book titled "Cracked Not Broken" and produced various other forms of media.

"We want to raise awareness about mental illness and about suicide," Lisa Herland, Central Berkshire Regional School District's interventionalist for social emotional health, explained.

"And we want to open up the conversation and not make it something that's taboo to talk about and we want people to know that they're not alone and that there's help out there for them and we're hoping that something like this gets people to open up and reach out."

Vice President of BCSP Bertha Connelley added that the organization will have a table at the evening event and there will also be school adjustment counselors. It is noted that the presentation is appropriate for ages middle school and up.

"You can be feeling very not OK but there's hope that if you reach out and get help, there's hope that you can find joy again," she said.

Nichols explained that she and Farrell started Purgatory Road after their kids graduated from high school because they wanted to give back in some way.  

"We started trying to find something that we could raise money for and Joann came across the suicide prevention idea and then we stumbled into just hundreds and hundreds of people in our local community who had some sort of impact or suicide had touched them in some way," she added.

BCSP sets up a table at the haunted event with resources and to be available for questions.

About 50 volunteers work on Purgatory Road each night and the crew has become somewhat of a family.

"Purgatory Road from day one has been a team effort. It started out with Joann and I and our kids and their friends and then we went into the high schools and we got the kids there to help volunteer, we need about 35 actors a night and another 15 to help make sure everything runs smoothly and safely," Nichols explained.

"The most remarkable thing is the kids that started in high school oftentimes fly home to participate in this from all over the country. It's really made a big impact. They are what makes us keep going."

The fundraiser is now led by four people: Nichols, Farrell, Kaitlyn Houghtaling, and Joe Dinofrio, and they focus on making the best experience for guests as possible. Because of the nature of the haunt, it is recommended for ages 12 and older but parents can use discretion.

Nichols noted that this year, it is on a wooded trail and people should wear proper footwear. This year’s attraction will be around the same length as previous years, taking about 20 to 25 minutes to go through.

Farrell said watching all of the kids get into costume for the show fills her heart.  

Last year, the fundraiser was not able to happen because the Zoning Board of Appeals denied a special permit request to hold it on Berkshire Money Management's property after neighbors opposed the location. Prior to that, it was held on Nichol's property.

They were still able to fundraise that year after a couple of companies gave them money, bringing the total donations from about $175,000 to $200,000. Berkshire Money Management contributed $10,000 to the BCSP after the event was canceled.

"We have a lot of really loyal people and Purgatory Road is very much a team effort with sponsors and kids so we don't like to focus on any one thing because everyone is important," Nichols added. "Everyone's contribution is important."

They were happy to report that they are starting off this year with $5,000 in donations.

Tickets are $15 and are sold at the door.

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