It’s hard to miss the dozens of road side signs with red high heels that have popped up in the last couple of weeks. So, it’s likely that you are aware that “Walk a Mile” is happening during the September Third Thursday in downtown Pittsfield. But how much do you really know about the event? Who does the event support and how can you help? Do you really know the power of walking together for one mile, one evening in September?
Last year, we sat down with Elizabeth Freeman Center (EFC) Board Members, Susan Gordon and Jackie Sadera, and they filled us in on the story behind EFC’s march to stop rape, sexual assault, and gender violence.
The number one thing that they want you to know is that the 8th annual “Walk a Mile” event being held on Thursday, September 20th is for EVERYONE. The Elizabeth Freeman Center invites men, women, and children to walk during the event. It is a powerful way to stand in solidarity against domestic violence, and it is a great way for young children to learn respect for themselves and others. The second thing is they wish to debunk the misconception that to participate you must wear heels. You can wear any shoes that you feel comfortable in, and they do not have to be women’s shoes. If you wish, there will be tables filled with decorations that you can attach to your shoes, or you can borrow a pair of shoes if you get there early! Registration is free, although donations are encouraged, and is open now. Individual, small group, and team registrations are welcome. EFC encourages you to pre-register online, but you can also register the day of the event. Online registration will close at noon on September 20th and will begin again, in person, at 5 pm the day of, at Persip Park on the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue. The one-mile walk will begin at 6 pm, rain or shine. The section of North Street from West Street to Linden Street will be closed to vehicular traffic.
The very first “Walk a Mile” event was held in downtown Pittsfield in 2011, on a very damp, cold day in September, and the turn-out for 3rd Thursday as well as the walk was low. Despite the grey skies and low turnout, the event was a success. The people on the street donated money to the “Walk a Mile’ walkers as they passed by (in the buckets they carried).
“People who walked, primarily men, said ‘Are you doing this next year? I’ll do this next year!’” recalls Susan Gordon. “I thought people would say it was cold; it was miserable; my feet hurt, but there was something about it that was profoundly moving. People wanted to do it again. I just never expected that.”
And the event has grown larger every year. The number of walkers was up to 600 in 2016, and to about 700 in 2017. In 2017, there were 39 teams registered online and the EFC received 786 online donations from social media/email individual fundraising efforts. The 2017 “Walk a Mile” raised $80,000, and the Elizabeth Freeman Center has set the 2018 goal for the same amount. The fundraising portion of the event has become a friendly competition, and businesses, as well as individuals, have taken on the challenge to be the “Walk a Mile’s” top fundraisers.
2017 Top 5 Teams:
Berkshire Community College Strut – 9 members – raised $3,575
Unistress Community Crew – 4 members – raised $2,385
Team Onyx (Onyx Specialty Papers) – 5 members – raised $2,205
Team CLA (Community Legal Aid) – 2 members – raised $1,860
Team of the North (VidMob) – 9 members – raised $1,780
“The other thing that is really profoundly moving is men come back and say that when they’re walking, victims of violence come up to them and tell their stories.”, continues Gordon. Sadera, visibly emotional, chimes in, “that just moves me every time”.
“Some of these are people who may not have ever told their story to anyone before, and, in fact, in 2016 after the walk, we had two women go public with their stories, deciding that it was time to tell their story.”
One of the main goals of the “Walk a Mile” event is to raise public awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault.
“Domestic violence can happen to anyone – rich, poor, old, young, rural, urban, of any race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and background – and is deserved by no one.” We think of women as being victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, but there are also a growing number of men, children, and members of our LGBTQ community who have fallen victim as well.
According to janedoe.org:
- “In Massachusetts, nearly 1 in 2 women and more than 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetimes; that’s more than 1.6 million individuals.”
- “1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men in MA have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence or stalking at the hands of an intimate partner; that’s more than 1.3m individuals.”
- “1 in 7 adult women in MA has been a victim of rape in her lifetime; (no data was available for men).”
“Every day at Elizabeth Freeman Center, we see the faces behind these numbers”, says EFC Executive Director Janis Broderick, “They come to us terrified, exhausted and lost. We work hard so they leave us safe, strong and growing.”
A second goal of “Walk a Mile” is to raise awareness about the agency. Although the Elizabeth Freeman Center is a “response agency”, it is not only that; and a lot of the agency’s focus also goes to “prevention through education”.
The final goal of “Walk a Mile” is to raise money for the organization. The Elizabeth Freeman Center receives state and federal grant funding, but a lot of the prevention work is not covered by these grants and more money is needed. There are a few ways you can donate to the event. Businesses can become underwriters of “Walk a Mile”, or you or your business can create an online team where you can collect “walkers” as well as donations. Anyone can register online and collect donations. You can create your own individual fundraising page to invite others to sponsor your “walk” with a monetary donation. This page can be easily forwarded to friends and family via social media or email. You can also show up the day of the event. Register to walk and make a donation, or show up to watch the march and place a donation in one of the buckets the “walkers” will be carrying.
The money raised from the “Walk a Mile” event will be used to fund programs and services of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, of which there are many.
“I think a lot of people know about the shelter and… maybe the 24-hour hotline… but we are just so much more than that”, says Sadera.
Emergency shelter – a secure, home-like shelter, with a capacity of 30 people. If full, EFC will find an alternate emergency shelter.
Emergency services – including food, transportation and safe phones
Pet foster care – if you and your pets need safety, the Berkshire Humane Society will provide foster care for your pets until you can care for them again
Response to hospitals or police stations – “counselors are available 24/7 to help those who need to flee violence. Counselors can meet you at hospitals or police stations following an attack to provide help and support.” Dedicated nurses are also at area hospitals to meet with victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence and offer them reassurance, comfort, and medical knowledge.
Advocacy – “to help you get the services you need, including income support and medical care, education and training, legal help, help with your bills, housing that is safe and affordable, and protections so you can keep your job or stay in school.”
Counseling, Safety planning, Court advocates, a Supervised visitation program, Counselors who work specifically with immigrants, and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer) services – including LGBTQ counselors and LGBTQ support groups.
“Money School” – “an award-winning trauma-informed financial independence initiative designed to create long-term safety and economic security for survivors of domestic or sexual violence”. Local banks donate money and staff time to offer classes and one-on-one mentoring in topics such as budgeting and setting goals. Not only do graduates leave with a sense of where they will go next, but they also leave with a healthy network of contacts who can help and give good advice.
The Elizabeth Freeman Center has representation county-wide with offices in North Adams, Great Barrington, and Pittsfield. They also have staff in the Pittsfield Police Department, the Adams Police Department, and Berkshire County Kids’ Place.
“Walk a Mile” is a program of the Elizabeth Freeman Center. Since 1974, the “Elizabeth Freeman Center offers hope, help, and healing to all experiencing or affected by domestic and sexual violence through free, accessible, and confidential services in Berkshire County. (They) work to end the cycle of violence through community mobilization, advocacy, and education. Promoting social justice and working to end all forms of oppression are essential to (their) work.” “Every day, 24 hours a day, EFC confronts the life and death issues faced by people experiencing or affected by domestic abuse and sexual assault…. (They) are the front line and major safety net in our community for victims seeking safety and a new life.”
Blog by Downtown Marketing Coordinator, Kimberly Gritman
Read the 2017 blog here: https://downtownpittsfield.com/2017/09/blog-walk-a-mile/
Header images: American Heel by Kimberly Gritman and Signs by Eleanore Velez
Shoe Table and Heel Image: Barbara Schmick of Berkshire Visions Photography courtesy of Elizabeth Freeman Center
Starting Line image: Kimberly Gritman
Note: Quoted material that is not directly cited is from the Elizabeth Freeman Center’s website.