Bellmore-based crisis center says, ‘Let’s walk, let’s talk’


September is Suicide Prevention Month, and for the first time in since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Long Island Crisis Center will raise money and awareness — simply by walking.

Its 14th annual event, “Let’s Walk, Let’s Talk-Stepping Together to Prevent Suicide,” is slated for Sunday, Sept. 18 on the Long Beach boardwalk. It’s one of the Bellmore-based crisis center’s biggest events, but had to take place virtually the last couple of years.

Since its first journey in 2009, the crisis center walk has provided a chance for people to come together and raise awareness for suicide prevention, said Debra Katz, a volunteer counselor for the center’s crisis hotline. Many use the day as an opportunity to remember those they may have lost.

“I think that, for people who have lost loved ones to suicide, even though their loved ones are always on their minds and in their hearts every day, the walk is exclusively for their memory,” Katz said.

And there is always strength in numbers, said Tawni Engel, the crisis center’s associate executive director.

“We’re all coming from this like-minded place of wanting to support one another,” said Engel, who worked her way from an intern in 2008 to her current leadership role about a year ago. “It’s a somber day, but we try to keep it upbeat.”

The walk’s festivities kick off at 10:30 a.m., at 1 Laurelton Blvd. Besides the actual walkers, those showing up can expect music, Engel said, along with informational tables and booths from various organization. The morning program also honors the crisis center’s person of the year, and feature speeches about suicide awareness.

The walk itself starts at 11:30.

Those joining the physical part will find a specific walking path to follow, said Susan Slagg, the crisis center’s operations manager. But there is no pressure for anyone to walk the entire time.

“I always say (the event) is good for the non-walkers, too,” she said. “The walk is more for people to get together, and bring attention to the important cause. There is no skill needed.”

Pre-pandemic, the walk attracted upward of 500 people, Engel said. Currently, there are a number of people registered, and donations have started to come in, too.

“Our goal this year is $50,000,” Engel said. “In the past, we’ve definitely surpassed that.”

A big part of the crisis center’s work is helping those identify as part of the greater LGBTQ community. Engel has worked extensively in the past with the center’s LGBTQ+ youth organization, Pride for Youth. There is direct correlation between what the crisis center and Pride for Youth does because, Engel said, “suicide numbers are so high in the LGBTQ+ community.”

The crisis center has been hard at work preparing for the walk.

“We have paid staff working on it, and a lot of volunteers,” Slagg said. “Everyone has worked really hard to make it happen. I know from our people — our staff and volunteers — we’re really excited to bring it back together.”

The Long Island Crisis Center was founded in 1971, and has spent the past half-century as a round-the-clock suicide prevention and crisis intervention center. It offers family counseling, support group, and various forms of health education.

Katz has volunteered as a counselor for five years, deciding to join after she retired from teaching. “I wanted to do so

mething meaningful, that would give back,” she said. “It has really added a lot to my life.”

Volunteer counselors go through rigorous training, taking part in shadow calls with counselors already on the job. Anyone interested in volunteering can call the crisis center’s business line at (516) 826-0244.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has simplified from what used to be a complicated 10-digit toll-free number to just 988.

“For people who are really in crisis and feeling suicidal, they don’t have to remember this long number,” Katz said, adding that “988 is a great thing.”

Phone numbers with a 516 area code are routed directly to the Long Island Crisis Center. If the Bellmore facility is backed up, another nearby center will intercept and lend a hand, Slagg said.

The Long Island Crisis Center rents space from the Bellmore Presbyterian Church, and its offices are just behind the sanctuary at 2740 Martin Ave. For more on the crisis center and the programs it offers, visit