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Annual Recognition Of Domestic, Sexual Violence Headlines Final Third Thursday Of 2018

Elizabeth Freeman Center
A photo from the 2017 Walk A Mile.

The annual Walk A Mile fundraiser for the Elizabeth Freeman Center will take center stage tonight at the last Third Thursday of the season in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

While the distance has remained the same, it’s been a long journey for Walk A Mile in Pittsfield.

“Oh, the first Walk A Mile was drizzly. I think we had about a hundred walkers involved. They weren’t deterred by rain. And since then, it’s just grown and grown," said Janis Broderick, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Freeman Center. “Last year we had 700 people on the street.”

The nonprofit is based in Pittsfield, and offers shelter, resources, and more to victims of domestic and sexual violence in Berkshire County. Its local iteration of Walk A Mile — created in 2001 by activist Frank Baird and observed around the world — is the centerpiece of the center’s yearly fundraising. Broderick says its annual operating budget is around $2.5 million.

“We didn’t know what to expect the first year, but this year we have a goal of $80,000," she told WAMC. "We need this money to continue our work. All of our grants require supplemental funding, and this is where we get it.”

Broderick says placing the fundraising effort in the city’s summer street festival allows it to transcend a dollar amount.

“I love Third Thursday because everyone’s out. It doesn’t matter who they are, how much income they have, what they look like. It’s a great event," she said. "And I think that’s what we also try to do with Walk A Mile — it is a fundraiser, but we want everyone on the street whether they raise funds or not because this is an important public demonstration of our commitment against violence.”

Broderick says part of the center’s rise in visibility comes from the pervasiveness of domestic violence in the county: “Particularly with the recent domestic violence murders, people are springing into action.”

“We have had two domestic homicides where women were killed in 2018 already, and there were two in 2017 as well," said Sue Birns. She is on the board of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, and says the event honors their memory.

“Our interest in the Elizabeth Freeman Center is the support and the involvement that they have with us in law enforcement," said Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, a regular participant in Walk A Mile. “I continually identify domestic violence and domestic violence recidivism as one of the top issues that our department faces, so raising awareness and desperately needed funds is critical for our public safety mission.”

The Elizabeth Freeman Center plays a significant role in the department’s handling of those cases.

“They are our victim witness — or victims’ rights advocates on our cases," Wynn told WAMC. "We have EFC staff assigned to us, we assign liaison officers to them. They’re available to us to assist with restraining order applications and aftercare visits.”

In addition to speaking at the event, Wynn takes part in the symbolic donning of women’s shoes for the mile-long show of support and recognition for victims.

“Do you have a favorite kind of shoe to wear?” asked WAMC.

“Do I have a favorite?" thought Wynn. "No, I have conceded control over that decision in the last couple of years. It’s generally a surprise for me as it usually is for the people who show up to see them.”

Registration for Walk A Mile takes place at 5 p.m. at Persip Park at the corner of Columbus Avenue and North Street. The walk begins at 6.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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