ST. ALBANS — Just after sunset Saturday, the sky swelled with shades of pink, purple and orange, and the crowds at Hard’Ack Recreation Area danced under the afterglow.
With more than 1,500 people surrounding them, A.J. Holzscheiter’s family members were grateful — for the community, for its support and for the weather.
“Even if it did rain, we’d have been happy with the turnout,” Don Wells, husband of A.J.’s mother Andrea Wells, said.
“A.J. pulled a miracle,” John Holzscheiter, A.J.’s father, said.
This past Saturday, Sept. 18, the Afterglow benefit concert returned for its second iteration after organizers canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year featured live music, food trucks and plenty of dancing throughout the day and early evening in honor of A.J., who died of suicide in 2018.
“We weren’t going to lose A.J. and let him fade away,” Holzscheiter said. “That’s what started the idea of Afterglow. Let’s do a benefit concert.”
Event proceeds go towards Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, the Vermont chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, as well as the St. Albans Recreation Department and Hard’Ack Recreation Area.
In 2019, the concert raised $27,000 for the organizations. If the crowds were any indication, this year’s event was expected to pull in even more.
While music played a large part throughout day, organizers also took the time to raise awareness of suicide in order to prevent such tragedies in the future. In between sets, NCSS mental health professionals Tom Murphy and Tony Stevens laid out some of the basics of how to engage with people on the difficult subject.
“The more we can talk about it, the more people are comfortable reaching out,” Lance Metayer, NCSS team leader of school-based clinical services, said.
Two to three die by suicide per week in Vermont, according to Vermont Suicide Prevention Center statistics. The organization recommends that people be informed, open and direct when talking about suicide in order to help people better connect with the support they need and allow loved ones to recognize critical warning signs.
Valerie Pallotta, co-director of the Josh Pallotta Fund, also emphasized the need for community-wide support, which was exemplified by the more than 1,000 people who sat on the slopes of Hard’Ack Saturday night.
“We need to focus on stuff like this. Awareness is one thing, but it helps to have things like this,” she said on stage as Holzscheiter stood next to her under the early evening sky. “Let’s build programs to prevent [suicide] where they don’t even have the thought.”
Suicide Prevention Hotlines
NCSS 24 Hour Crisis Telephone Line:
802-524-6554, then press 1
Toll free in VT:
800-834-7793, then press 1.
National Text Line:
Text VT to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
The Trevor Project LGBTQ Crisis Hotline:
Veterans Crisis Line:
1-800-273-8255, then press 1