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Safe Passage looks to expand protective services for women

  • John Frey, the race director goes through bib numbers as runners <br/>come to The Northampton running Company to pick up their bib numbers for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.<br/>

    John Frey, the race director goes through bib numbers as runners
    come to The Northampton running Company to pick up their bib numbers for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Bridget Mulkerrins, the children's advocate at Safe Passage in the play room.   <br/>


    Bridget Mulkerrins, the children's advocate at Safe Passage in the play room.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Sarah Smith, the director of Development at Safe Passage, looks for  bib number for a team from Webs at The Northampton Running Company  for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.<br/><br/>


    Sarah Smith, the director of Development at Safe Passage, looks for bib number for a team from Webs at The Northampton Running Company for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • bending down, Sarah Smith, the director of Development at Safe Passage, looks for the bib number of Elena Massa, of Easthampton at  The Northampton Running Company for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.<br/>

    bending down, Sarah Smith, the director of Development at Safe Passage, looks for the bib number of Elena Massa, of Easthampton at The Northampton Running Company for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Bib numbers at the The Northampton Running Company to be  picked up by people running in the  Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.<br/>


    Bib numbers at the The Northampton Running Company to be picked up by people running in the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Frey, the race director goes through bib numbers as runners <br/>come to The Northampton running Company to pick up their bib numbers for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.<br/>
  • <br/>Bridget Mulkerrins, the children's advocate at Safe Passage in the play room.   <br/>
  • <br/>Sarah Smith, the director of Development at Safe Passage, looks for  bib number for a team from Webs at The Northampton Running Company  for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.<br/><br/>
  • bending down, Sarah Smith, the director of Development at Safe Passage, looks for the bib number of Elena Massa, of Easthampton at  The Northampton Running Company for the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.<br/>
  • <br/>Bib numbers at the The Northampton Running Company to be  picked up by people running in the  Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage.<br/>

Kielson, the president of the board of Safe Passage, the Northampton nonprofit that assists victims of domestic violence and their families, hopes for a time when such an organization is no longer needed.

With community support and fundraising efforts like its annual Hot Chocolate Run, Safe Passage hopes to expand its programs and serve those in need of its services more effectively with a five-year plan under way since July.

That, of course, takes money, Kielson said. “In order for us to attain all of our goals, we need to support that monetarily,” she said. “That’s what we’re embarking on.”

Some of those goals, said Executive Director Marianne Winters, are to increase Safe Passage’s direct-care services, its children’s program and its legal advocacy program.

Winters said adding another two or three full-time staff to provide direct care would allow Safe Passage to more effectively direct clients to the most appropriate services and allow each case to be handled most efficiently.

Expansion of the children’s program will allow staff to tend to an always-changing group of children, some traumatized by the violence in their homes, of all different ages.

Some counselors may be more familiar dealing with toddlers, others with pre-teens or teens, Winters said. Expanding the program would enable staff to help as many as possible across the age spectrum.

The hours of Safe Passage’s legal advocate, now a part-time position, would be double to make it a full-time role, providing more flexibility to provide a guide through the often complex court system for those who need assistance in that arena.

What allows Safe Passage the luxury to even consider expanding its role in getting women and their children out of abusive situations is the added budget stability events like the Hot Chocolate Run provide, said Winters.

The 5-kilometer run/walk began nine years ago as a way to recoup money lost from government budget cuts, Winters said, and has gone from stopgap to its own revenue stream in that time.

Last year’s run brought in about $165,000 said Sarah Smith, Safe Passage’s director of development. “We know we’re going to exceed that this year,” she said.

“It brings the organization some new stability that didn’t exist before,” Smith said.

“The exciting thing is, we no longer have to operate on a shoestring or in ‘crisis mode,’ ” Kielson said.

The run began nine years ago with 400 signing up, and organizers had to turn away those who wanted to participate this year after hitting a limit of 5,500, Smith said.

If the run can’t expand by adding more runners, Smith said, it can still grow by courting more volunteers. It can creating more opportunities to use the event as a way to raise awareness about the organization and the issues of domestic abuse, and hopefully inspire others to become more active in ending cycles of violence, she said.

Winters said the run provides about 15 to 20 percent of Safe Passage’s annual budget. The state contributes another 40 percent. The remainder comes from private donations and fundraising.

Winters downplayed concerns that the organization may be relying too much on money raised through the run, saying instead she’d be more concerned if she had to rely more on state money.

She said the amount the state contributes can be much more unpredictable from year to year and can be taken away at a moment’s notice.

With the emphasis on reactive programs and procedures, there is still an important educational component of Safe Passage’s efforts to end cycles of domestic abuse in the home, Smith said.

The distinction between awareness and education is important, Smith said. “Making people aware of the problem doesn’t make the problem go away.”

Part of that education, Winters said, is disabusing people of the widely held notion that domestic abuse is only physical battering of a partner.

Domestic abuse can encompass behaviors not traditionally thought of as abuse, including overt control of finances, limiting social contact, discouraging relationships outside of the home, restricting communication with others and engaging in emotional abuse, she said.

Winters said there is heightened awareness today of long-held misogynistic attitudes. She pointed to the most recent election cycle, where comments regarding women’s health and security that showed ignorance of anatomy and human sexuality weren’t expressed in a vacuum where no one noticed. Instead, those remarks — by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin and radio host Rush Limbaugh among others — drew national attention and sharp criticism.

While the education about how to recognize and prevent abusive relationships can begin at almost any age, Winters said, she doesn’t feel that the “assembly model” of gathering students in a gymnasium and lecturing them for 40 minutes is the most effective way to do so.

She said most effective are peer-run groups at schools and colleges, which can better inform their counterparts how to recognize potentially destructive attitudes and behaviors and learn how to intervene before abusive behavior begins.

“None of us are really trained in how to be in a relationship,” Winters said.

Asked if things were getting better for women locally, Winters said, “I think overall, we’re making progress.” But she acknowledged there was still much progress to be made.

“Change is not a linear thing,” she said.

Kielson was more ebullient in her optimism.

“I get the staggering feeling there is hope,” she said. “(Safe Passage) can be a safety net of hope and support. Isn’t that an amazing thing?”

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

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