Twelve Sioux Falls community leaders will embark on a cross-state run this fall to raise money for the Helpline Center, South Dakota’s 211 crisis hotline.

Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken, who will be one of the runners, announced the 437 Project in a press conference Thursday. He says raising money through running shows the importance of good health overall.

“We have to continue to talk about physical health and mental health in one sentence, and so by highlighting that through running I think is one way that we can do that,” he said.

The run is a 437-mile, nonstop relay beginning Sept. 22 in Belle Fourche. Each participant will run for 10 miles before another will take their place.

The route then travels through Sturgis, Hayes, Pierre, Wessington Springs, Woonsocket, Mitchell and Hartford before ending in Sioux Falls on Sept. 25.

Along with aiding the helpline, the run will raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention in South Dakota, especially for those in rural communities.

“Farmer suicide and suicide in our ag community is an increasing issue,” TenHaken said. “So, not by chance that we’re passing through agricultural country, as well.”

Each year, over 48,000 people die by suicide in the United States. Suicide was the 10th most common cause of death in South Dakota overall and the second most common cause for those ages 10 through 39 from 2016 to 2020.

Benson Langat, a therapist for Family Service Inc. in Sioux Falls and one of the 12 runners, said bringing more awareness to mental health struggles can remove the stigma surrounding it.

“We want to bring that awareness that talking about mental illness is not a weakness. It’s actually a strength,” he said.

Janet Kittams, chief executive officer of the Helpline Center, adds that the run will draw attention to the services the helpline offers.

“Looking forward to being a part of that conversation with all of those runners as we continue to elevate and talk about the need for mental health care and to let people know Helpline Center is there 24 hours a day for people when they need us or when their family member needs us,” she said.

TenHaken approached the other 11 participants because of their passions for running. They all have competed in marathons, triathlons or other long-distance or endurance events. The group’s first meeting was last December.

Allison Weber is another runner and a relationship manager for financial technology provider Fiserv out of Sioux Falls. She said participating in the project holds special meaning for her.

“I have anxiety, and a history of alcoholism in my family and depression in my family, and so it’s always been important for me to have positive goals to focus on, and so this will be kind of one of the bigger things to focus on,” she said.

TenHaken said sponsors are still needed for transportation, jerseys, runner care and send-off, and finish line celebrations, as well as individual donations for the Helpline Center.

The 437 Project website has more information about the runners, the route and how to donate.