by Phil Demers
PITTSFIELD — Men in the hundreds, young as 13 and old as 91, turned out to once again “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” the fifth consecutive year gents have gotten creative with their footwear on North Street.
In 2014, participation in the event topped 400 and more than $40,000 was raised for Pittsfield’s Elizabeth Freeman Center, which serves thousands of local survivors of domestic abuse every year.
Thursday appeared to be a comparable success as men lined up in wearing everything from sling-backs to ankle straps and flip-flops adorned in flowers.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn kicked off the mile-long walk, and deserves credit for carrying on a serious conversation while strapping on a painfully narrow-looking pair of red-white-and-blue high heels.
“The [Elizabeth Freeman Center] is, without a doubt, our most valuable non-public safety partner when it comes to battling domestic violence,” Wynn said. “We couldn’t do a lot of what we do in investigation and enforcement if we didn’t have their advocates working with the victims.”
Two Reid Middle School students, Adam Killbary and Michael Lafreniere, both 13, sat nearby putting on pink and purple flats.
“I’m a big boy: six-inch stilettos aren’t going to work,” Killbary said.
“My principal came and asked me if I was going to do it, and I didn’t really think I would until I heard about the cause,” Lafreniere said.
State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, lined up for his walk wearing a pair of lipstick-red heels.
“It’s raising money, it’s raising awareness and giving confidence to people to leave a dangerous home and be protected,” Pignatelli said. “I’m happy to be in pain for an hour for that.”
He added, “The ills of society, the Berkshires are not immune from. I told [Elizabeth Freeman Center Executive Director] Janis Broderick I just love what she’s doing, but I would love to put her out of business. What I mean by that is, we solve this problem of domestic violence.”
One in four women report experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice. Two million injuries and 1,300 deaths occur every year as a result of this violence, the same sources say.
In the Berkshires, the rate of restraining orders given to women seeking freedom from abuse exceeds the state average, but the figure has been descending since “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” started five years ago. The event coincides with the September edition of the city’s popular Third Thursday festival.
“It’s a triple winner: We get to raise money, we get to raise community education and we get to have fun and feel like a community while we’re doing it,” Sue Birns, a member of the Elizabeth Freeman Center Board of Directors, said.
The Freeman Center served 3,107 female survivors of abuse, all Berkshire County residents, in 2013, according to a list which included numbers from each of the county’s 32 cities and towns. The city topped the list with 1,601, but even in small towns like Sheffield and Cheshire, 24 and 30 survivors were served, respectively.
Setting off the walkers, Wynn directed them southbound toward Crowne Plaza.
“South, turn, north, turn, back: It’s really simple,” Wynn said. “As soon as I manage to make my way out to the road, we’re off.”