Amanda Winters, left, and Amanda Bauer connect carabiner chains as community members came together at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020 — World Mental Health Day — to set a Guinness world record for most carabiners linked. The world record wasn’t what the day was about, though, as the chain was a visual representation of breaking down the stigma of mental illness and bringing awareness to suicide prevention through talking about mental health and showing we are stronger together. The record was set with the completion of a chain of 13,808 carabiners. (Kassi Jackson/Kassi Jackson)

HARTFORD COURANT OCT 11, 2020 6:00 AM

 

As the sun shone bright on the outfield of Dunkin’ Donuts Park on Saturday morning, teams from Bear’s Restaurant Group and other community members came together on World Mental Health Day to try to break the Guinness world record for the longest chain of carabiners and send one clear message: We are stronger together.

“One day [I] just had the thought [that] it would be fantastic if we could show people that there was always a lifeline, that there was always support out there for them, and how could we visually show them that when you connect with others — when you reach out, you’re stronger — that builds your strength,” Cheryl Antoncic, co-owner of Bear’s Restaurant Group and co-founder of Linked 4 Life said

With that vision, the goal to set a world record for longest chain of carabiners was on. The carabiners are a visual representation and a reminder that no one is alone.
“This is a one-day event, but this is not a one-day conversation,” Antoncic said.

Antoncic had significant community support when it came to pulling off such an event and sending such an important message. Marisa Giarnella-Porco, co-founder and CEO of the Jordan Porco Foundation and co-founder of Linked 4 Life, played a big role in the success of Saturday’s event.

The Jordan Porco Foundation’s mission is “to prevent suicide and create a message of hope for young adults,” Giarnella-Porco said. The foundation is Hartford-based, founded in 2012, and went national in 2015 where it now has programs in 250 colleges across 43 states.

The original goal was 11,000 carabiners, which represented the 1,100 college students who die by suicide each year. The event concluded with setting the Guinness world record with 13,808 carabiners linked together, wrapping around Dunkin’ Donuts Park more than once and assisted by 26 teams of volunteers.

When Linked 4 Life was looking for a spot to hold this event and set this record, a space was needed where the chain could be laid out without overlap. That’s when Hartford Yard Goats team President Tim Restall said Dunkin’ Donuts Park could host the event.

“This year we’ve realized baseball is not essential, but doing events like this and making an impact [are essential],” Restall said. “To be part of this today — and also the bigger message — and help with suicide prevention and education and bring awareness, especially on this day, it means a lot to the organization.”

On Saturday, local restaurants competed with one another to complete the largest part of the overall chain.

From left, Bear’s BBQ Hartford team member Melanie Cruz, assistant manager Tiana Concepcion and general manager Sam Reid walk past third base on their way to link their carabiner chins to the larger chain as community members came together on World Mental Health Day to break the Guinness World Record for most carabiners linked at Dunkin Donuts Park Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Hartford. The Guinness World Record isn’t what the day was about, though, as the chain is a visual representation of breaking down the stigma of mental health and suicide awareness and prevention through talking about mental health and showing we are stronger together. The record was broken with the completion of a carabiner chain of 13,808. (Kassi Jackson/Kassi Jackson)

Bear’s BBQ in Windsor won that friendly competition, with 1,100 carabiners contributed by the team members at that restaurant. Shay Johnson, general manager for Bear’s BBQ Windsor, said he has a deep personal motivation to contributing all that he can to events like Saturday’s, especially after losing a colleague he was close to.

“I’m saying that if I couldn’t pick up on the cues that he possibly was giving me, I’m saying I’m not going to miss out again,” Johnson said, after recalling he spoke with his colleague four days before he died. “So getting [this message] out there to as many people as I could was my motivating factor.”

“We want to stop the stigma. We want for people to be able to actually talk about this and not have a negative connotation,” Johnson said. “We want people to be able to say how they feel and not be judged for it.”

If you or someone you know needs help, click here to find local resources provided by the state. If you or someone you know is looking for mental health resources related to the coronavirus pandemic, click here.

Kassi Jackson can be reached at casjackson@courant.com.