Website Header – Walk a Mile – Images by Barbara Schmick of Berkshire Visions Photography. Courtesy of Elizabeth Freeman Center

It’s likely that you are aware that “Walk a Mile” is happening during the September Third Thursday in Downtown Pittsfield, but do you know how to get involved? Do you know the vital services that you support with your donation? Do you know the power of walking together for one mile, one evening in September?

We sat down with Elizabeth Freeman Board Members, Susan Gordon and Jackie Sadera, who are not only members of their fundraising committee, but who are also excellent representatives of the caring, passionate, informed, and professional individuals who comprise the leadership of the Elizabeth Freeman Center (EFC). Susan and Jackie 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 7th annual “Walk a Mile” event being held on Thursday, September 21st 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 21st 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 after the idea was brought before the EFC Board of Directors. The first event was held on a very damp, cold day in September, and the turn-out for 3rd Thursday as well as the walk was low. Yet, 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 the EFC raised 30% more in donations last year than the year before.

“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 Susan. Jackie, 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, last year 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.

Susan hears a lot of men say, “The women in my life know how to take care of themselves”. She says, “Talk to them about the people they know…. They are not going to tell you but every woman knows people who’ve experienced violence. There is not a one of us who doesn’t…. It doesn’t matter how savvy the women in your life are, they’re vulnerable”.

“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. Nationwide, “1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner”, according to Janedoe.org (the Massachusetts Coalition against Sexual and Domestic Violence). Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime; and 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced stalking in their lifetime. In Berkshire County, restraining order rates (for 209A abuse prevention orders) are 23% above the state average according to the MA Office of the Commissioner of Probation, Registry of Civil Restraining Order Summary 2015.

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”. For those who do not know the significance of the name, the Elizabeth Freeman Center was named after Elizabeth Freeman, also known as “Mumbet” or “Bet”. According to Wikipedia, Mumbet was “the first African-American woman to be set free under the Massachusetts constitution. Her case, Brom and Bett v. Ashley, served as precedent in the State Supreme Court case that brought an end to the practice of slavery in Massachusetts.” She took the name Elizabeth Freeman upon her freedom, and remains “a symbol of courage and spirit to all who strive for freedom”. Please take the time to read the rest of her inspirational story on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mum_Bett

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. Join “walkers” such as Probate Court Register Fran Marinaro, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, and Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski: all men who know and value the work of the Elizabeth Freeman Center because they see the people EFC helps on an daily basis.

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 Jackie.

Programs are free, confidential, and available in any language. They include:

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.

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.

“Money School” is a relatively new program to the EFC which is “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.

“When I came to the Elizabeth Freeman Center, I was a woman who didn’t know who I was anymore.  I didn’t know what to live for, how to trust, I didn’t have a purpose.  Through the Money School Program, I now have a full-time job, I am now enrolled at [community college], and I now get up every day of my life knowing that I can make a difference.”   –Money School graduate

Another exciting program on the horizon will focus on a homelessness grant funded by the State of Massachusetts.

Jackie, “Every time we list all the things we do, I am amazed that it’s done with the size of the staff that we have…. These are hard, hard working employees”…“who wear many hats.”, finishes Susan. “There are very few people who have just one job (at the Elizabeth Freeman Center)”.

Before you click away from this story, please consider joining the Elizabeth Freeman Center at “Walk a Mile” on September 21st. Registration can be found here: http://www.elizabethfreemancenter.org/events/wam/

If you are a victim of Domestic Violence, please call the Elizabeth Freeman Center’s toll-free 24/7 Hotline at (866) 401-2425. “Call anytime of the day or night for support, counseling, advocacy, shelter, or just to talk”.

Counselors can meet people in safe locations almost anywhere in Berkshire County. They can meet you at the EFC office or wherever you need to be met. They can send a cab for you. Please do not hesitate to call. (866) 401-2425

 

Event Details:

Walk a Mile 2017. September 21st, 2017 during Pittsfield’s 3rd Thursday. Onsite registration (plus shoe selecting and decorating) at 5 pm at Persip Park on the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue. Walk begins at 6 pm.

Online Registration: https://www.firstgiving.com/elizabethfreemancenter/wam2017

A paper pledge form is also available. http://www.elizabethfreemancenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/EFC-2017-WAM-Registration-Form.pdf 

Visit www.elizabethfreemancenter.org/wam for more information.  Or call the Elizabeth Freeman Center at (413) 499-2425.

“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.”

 

Contact contributor Kimberly Cortes-Gritman at intern2@downtownpittsfield.com

Kimberly is a Downtown Coordinator and Lead Coordinator of First Fridays Artswalk.

 

Images: Barbara Schmick of Berkshire Visions Photography courtesy of Elizabeth Freeman Center

Note: Quoted material that is not directly cited is from the Elizabeth Freeman Center’s website.