Joni Thornton and Nicole Mortenson

September 24, 2021
Iowan of the Week
Co-Chairs of the Out of the Darkness Central Iowa Walk

Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize two dedicated leaders for mental health and suicide prevention in our community—Joni Thornton and Nicole Mortenson. Joni and Nicole are co-chairs of the Out of the Darkness Central Iowa Walk. The annual walk is part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Iowa and helps raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health in the community.

Joni and Nicole led a very successful walk in Ankeny on September 19. Hundreds of Iowans gathered at the DMACC campus to share hope for families affected by suicide. The event also featured a virtual memorial wall on Facebook to honor the lives lost to suicide in the past year.

The co-chairs aim to make the walk family-friendly year after year, because suicide and mental health do not just impact adults. There has been an increase in pediatric mental health issues in recent years, and mental health affects the whole family. The co-chairs have included events for the whole family in the walk, from face painting and bracelet making to live music and therapy dogs.

Although the walk takes place on one day, Joni, Nicole, and their team begin preparing for the event months in advance. They start planning in January and meet often to organize sponsors, vendors, and volunteers. This year, the walk had 15 sponsors supporting the event. 80% of every dollar from sponsorships goes to suicide prevention and mental health research right here in Iowa.

Joni and Nicole are tireless advocates for mental health, and their dedication to raising awareness in the community is remarkable. Joni has worked with the American Suicide Prevention Foundation for 12 years and Nicole has served the organization since 2015. Both women coordinate an amazing walk that provides a space for families of those lost to suicide to feel understood and to meet other families affected by suicide.

The American Suicide Prevention Foundation offers free resources for individuals and families across the region. The organization has monthly support groups, community-based presentations, and programs to help Iowans become more aware of mental health.

Joni and Nicole’s advocacy for suicide prevention and mental health awareness have changed lives and provided hope for countless Iowans. It is my pleasure to honor Joni Thornton and Nicole Mortenson as Iowans of the Week.