A few months after Gina Giancola, a well-known soccer player and sophomore at Hersey High School, died in October 2011, the families of several friends approached her family hoping to organize an event in her memory.
Gina's father, Mark Giancola, said they were too mentally exhausted to help with much of the preparations that first year, but were moved when more than 400 people showed up at the 2012 event.
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"It's very touching," he said. "They could have been home with their families, but they came out for us."
This Sunday, Giancola is hoping for a similar turnout at the 2nd annual Gina Giancola Memorial 5K Walk/Run in Arlington Heights. Money raised goes to the Gina Giancola SAFE Foundation, a nonprofit started after Gina took her own life. The foundation works to educate young people that they are not alone when struggling with depression.
Funds from last year's race paid for three $2,500 scholarships that will be given out Sunday to Northwest Suburban High School District 214 students. Gina's family also donated to grief and support groups for other families who have lost someone to depression, Mark Giancola said.
The run/walk is an effort to raise awareness of teen depression and keep Gina's memory alive, said Hal Gierman, whose daughter played soccer with Gina and whose family has been helping organize the race.
"It hit our whole family particularly hard," Gierman said. "We want teenagers to know that there are places for them to turn and people you can go to for help. There just needs to be more awareness of how many young people this really impacts. The numbers are much larger than I would ever have expected."
The race starts at 8 a.m. at Thomas Middle School, 1430 N. Belmont Ave., Arlington Heights. Participants can still register for the race at http://www.active.com/5k-race/arlington-heights-il/gina-giancola-safe-foundation-2013.