PITTSFIELD — Organizers of tonight’s Third Thursday celebration are hoping to bring the city to its feet — in support of women.
This month’s downtown street festival will feature the fourth annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event to raise funds and awareness about domestic violence and the need to stop abusers.
“The recent national media attention toward domestic violence and the NFL is a sobering reminder and a relevant tie-in to the event,” said Becca Bradburd, director of operations for the Elizabeth Freeman Center, sponsor of the walk.
The event invites individuals and teams of men to turn out in women’s footwear and raise money as they strut down North Street, but the funds support programs, services and facilities maintained by the Freeman Center.
“It’s such a serious subject, but the center uses a creative way to emphasize and make people aware of the issues,” said Jen Glockner, director of the Pittsfield Office of Cultural Development, which organizes Third Thursdays.
“We encourage everybody to get out there. Even if you don’t have crazy high heels, you can have fun decorating,” she said. “If you don’t want to or are unable to walk, putting even a dollar or two dollars in the collection buckets is a great way to help.”
The center offers shelter, counseling, education, advocacy and community organizing to women, children and men who are experiencing or at risk of domestic violence or sexual abuse.
“In 2013 alone, we provided direct services to more than 3,100 abuse survivors and reached more than 1,600 young people through programs in their schools,” Freeman Center board of directors Secretary Susan Birns wrote in a Sept. 14 column.
And that’s just the issues that are known and cases that are reported.
Though many cases do go unnoticed, cases of domestic violence committed by NFL athletes have recently been brought to light, bringing the issue into national dialogue. Cases like the one of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was videotaped knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator, have provoked a range of questions about why he did it, how he should be disciplined and why his now-wife, Janay, stayed with him.
The issue has prompted social media campaigns, from “#WhyIStayed” to “#HowILeft,” and subsequent news articles about victim-abuser relationships and behaviors of battered people.
Bradburd said the #WhyIStayed Twitter campaign came up during a recent weekly support group meeting offered by the Freeman Center for survivors.
“We realize that everyone’s in their own place in their own moments,” Bradburd said. “But we will work tirelessly to get you the help that you need.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is supported by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Bradburd said during the coming weeks, Berkshire County residents can expect to see various displays and programs offered to help educate people and get them services and support, whether they’re victims, loved ones of victims or abusers who need help in stopping violent behaviors.
She said that the cultural and social changes that need to be made to stop the violence, won’t happen through the Elizabeth Freeman Center alone.
Already, the center is receiving support and finding allies through other agencies, businesses and volunteers and individuals.
Shooz, a retail store in Lenox, recently partnered with Israeli shoe manufacturer Yaleet, to donate 100 pairs of NAOT brand shoes to the Elizabeth Freeman Center. The donation included practical, everyday shoes, boots and sandals that women could wear to get a fresh start in a career or life.
Najwa Squailia, a sales associate and buyer for the store, said that when Shooz came across the community partnership opportunity with NAOT, the Freeman Center stood out as the ideal recipient.
“In their mission, they have a commitment to providing the idea of confidence, self-assuredness and comfort that women deserve,” said Squailia. “Women can do a lot when they’re not hampered by social constraint.”
“Our hope is for all our clients to have the opportunity to stand tall and feel comfortable on their feet,” Bradburd said.
Another way the center is working to help survivors is through a new partnership with the Great Barrington-based American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), to hold a five-week financial education workshop series designed for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“Money School” workshops will be held at Community Health Programs, located at 442 Stockbridge Road, in Great Barrington, from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays in October. A $250 stipend will be provided to those who complete the course, as well as free dinner, child care, and the opportunity to network with bankers and employers.
“Survivors of domestic violence are often left struggling financially and have low financial confidence,” said Nicole Kreisberg, senior research analyst at the AIER, who manages the program. “These classes will teach them financial knowledge and skills, like learning how to budget, while connecting them to longer-term community and social resources.”
“You’re not alone. We’re always here,” said Bradburd. “If you’re concerned for a friend, give us a call and we can talk through what that’s like. If you’re not in direct relation to the issue, we greatly need people to start to think about our culture and what being an active bystander is to make change.”
At a glance …
• In addition to the Elizabeth Freeman Center’s annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, Pittsfield’s Third Thursday will include plenty more activities to get people on their feet, from square dancing to a breakdance competition, shoe decorating and exhibits. See the full schedule and details at http://discoverpittsfield.com/3rdthursdays.
• To learn more about and to register for the Walk a Mile event, visit http:firstgiving.com/elizabethfreemancenter/WAM. Photos from the event will be posted on the center’s Facebook page.
• To learn more about the Elizabeth Freeman Center and to get immediate help, call the 24/7 hotline at 1-866-401-2425. You can also visit http://elizabethfreemancenter.org.
• To register to attend AIER’s Money School workshops for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault, or to learn more, contact Elizabeth Freeman Center at (413) 429-8190 by Sept. 25.