Linked 4 Life plans to attempt to break a Guinness world record Oct. 10 at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, creating the largest chain of connected carabiners.

HARTFORD COURANT OCT 05, 2020  6:00 AM

Carabiners will take on new symbolism Oct. 10 at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, as a visual representing the importance of mental health at a time when people may need support more than ever.

If 11,000 carabiners are successfully connected, the home of the Yard Goats will also be the home of a Guinness world record.

Bear’s Restaurant Group and the Jordan Porco Foundation have teamed up for Linked 4 Life, a new initiative that aims to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. On that day at the ballpark, teams plan to try to break the world record: creating the longest chain of connected carabiners.

“It’s really about visually representing people linking together,” said Cheryl Antoncic, co-owner of Bear’s Restaurant Group, noting that the carabiner is a clip used to tether rock climbers. “We’re each other’s safe space, creating a message of hope, one link at a time. Our pledge to be linked for life will break through the stigma that leaves too many people struggling in silence.”

The current record of 8,622 connected carabiners was set in September 2019 by a Cub Scout pack in Virginia. Linked 4 Life is aiming to break that record with 11,000, in a show of solidarity for the estimated 1,100 college students who die by suicide each year in the U.S.

In December, Bear’s Restaurant Group hosted “Rock & Row,” a fundraiser that raised money for the Jordan Porco Foundation, a Hartford-based organization committed to preventing suicide in the high school, college, and college-entry student population. The cause is near and dear to the group, Antoncic said, and became particularly poignant last July when she learned a beloved former Bear’s manager, Sean Brennan, had died by suicide.

Encouraged by the turnout and support for Rock & Row, she hoped to do something bigger and better for 2020, but COVID-19 restrictions put the brakes on large public events. However, it was clear to her that mental health still needed to be at the forefront, as people were dealing with so much stress and uncertainty around the pandemic. She saw it happening in the restaurant industry, as shutdowns and loss of business had a devastating impact on employment.

“People losing their jobs creates financial hardship, on so many. The restaurant industry has been hit really, really hard,” she said. “So for an industry that was already impacted heavily by mental health and substance abuse…COVID leaves [people] more vulnerable.”

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The goal is to have 110 chains of 100 carabiners to break the record, she said. For every $3 donation to Linked For Life, a carabiner will be added to the chain. In-person donations can be made at all Bear’s Restaurant Group locations, including Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ in Hartford, Windsor, South Windsor, and New Haven; Blind Pig Pizza in Hartford; and Black Hog Brewery in Oxford. Online donations can be made at linkedforlife.org.

Teams and individuals are also encouraged to join in the fundraising effort, with a $300 minimum registration fee for a team. For safety and to ensure social distancing, the event is not open to the public, Antoncic said, and only two representatives will be allowed per team.

The record-breaking efforts will be live-streamed, and Antoncic hopes it will become an ongoing national movement to build awareness of the importance of mental wellness and suicide prevention.

Linked 4 Life has also partnered with CT Murals and Born & Bred Studios to develop a series of art installations to raise awareness about mental health. Alyssa Haley of Born & Bred will create a 3D sculpture of the word HOPE, featuring the linked carabiners, and artists Corey Pane, Deka Henry, and Lindaluz Carrillo will paint murals live on-site during the Oct. 10 event. The associated artwork will be installed throughout the city at a later date.

Antoncic said she sees the opportunity amid the pandemic crisis to do something positive, shining a brighter light on the importance of mental health.

“[It was] always an important topic. But when people now are feeling this in a way that maybe they never did before, it’s very relevant,” she said. “I hate the fact that COVID brought that to be so relevant, but this is our opportunity to really be able to engage people in raising awareness around ‘It’s OK to feel this stressed, it’s OK to be fearful’ … This is about all of us in any level of what we’re feeling.”

Leeanne Griffin can be reached at lgriffin@courant.com.