‘A good cause’: Resources from the Hot Chocolate Run have led to expanded services, new facility for Safe Passage

  • The new location of safe Passage in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Laura Penney-Edwards, director of community engagement at Safe Passage, stands in the new waiting room at their location in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leslie Roberts, a first contact specialist in the room designated to receive the 24-hour hotline calls at Safe Passage. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A children’s table in the waiting room in the new location of Safe Passage in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A play area in the new location of Safe Passage in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Theresa Maenzo-Tanner, programs manager at Safe Passage in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • One of the therapy rooms in the new location of Safe Passage in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alexis Schneeflock and her daughter, Greta, 5, of Cummington enjoy some hot chocolate along the sidelines of the run. Emily Thurlow

  • The annual Hot Chocolate Run in Northampton attracted 6,000 participants, many of whom were clad in festive holiday outfits. Emily Thurlow photo

  • Florence native Aidan Gilson was the first-place finisher of the 2019 run with a time of 15:37. Emily Thurlow

  • J. Vaughn of Northampton sported a polar bear suit while volunteering at the annual Hot Chocolate Run. Emily Thurlow photo

  • Donna Korash-Schiff of Hadley toasts to another successful finish of the Hot Chocolate Run. Emily Thurlow photo

  • Some participants ran, some walked and some were carried during the annual Hot Chocolate Run on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Emily Thurlow photo

For Hampshire Life
Published: 12/23/2019 4:22:01 PM

Lynne Marie Wanamaker experienced violence from an intimate partner more than three decades ago. As a young queer person growing up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, Wanamaker says she didn’t know of resources available to those that experienced same-gender perpetration.

Now, as the associate executive director of Northampton-based domestic violence nonprofit Safe Passage, Wanamaker is the person who gives the organization the green light to enable survivors of domestic violence to receive services.

“I have the privilege of signing the approval that facilitates Safe Passage to meet the needs of so many people,” she said, noting why she is a part of the survivor-centered and trauma-informed organization. “It’s healing.”

But Wanamaker isn’t alone.

Many people know about Safe Passage as a result of the annual Hot Chocolate Run, the popular 5K event that took place earlier this month. Over the years, the event has raised money for the organization, and this year it brought in nearly $632,000 from more than 7,500 donations — money that has supported the organization’s continued growth.

In 2017, Safe Passage was able to shift its three downtown offices into one after purchasing a new building on Carlon Drive. The move has facilitated the expansion of programming and resources that support survivors as whole people, meeting their full human needs, said Marianne Winters, executive director of Safe Passage.

“Funding for the Hot Chocolate Run has infused our programming with unrestricted resources,” said Winters. “From making sure the kids in our shelter stay involved in extracurricular activities to emergency hotel stays and emergency funding … we can be more flexible.”

Those resources also come in the form of expanded training and additional staff. Currently, Safe Passage employs 21 full-time and 14 part-time staff members and supports between 450 and 500 people in Hampshire County experiencing domestic violence. Staff is now able to host and be a part of trainings on site with larger designated areas to provide education.

Additionally, Winters said that Safe Passage’s new space not only provides a high level of safety and security for survivors, but also additional access for people with disabilities, space for play therapy and a reunification space for children and families. One corner of one of the three downtown buildings housed not only a children’s play corner, but the general gathering space as well as a lunch area for staff. The previous space didn’t allow for the different supports that are available now, she added.

“Domestic violence can end up creating ruptures in relationships with both parents. The space expands our ability to support healing after exposure to domestic violence,” said Winters. “A parent and their child can now receive more individualized support. Their relationship is valued.”

In years past, the topic of domestic violence wasn’t discussed as openly, but that’s changed. The general understanding of domestic violence is much more nuanced, said Winters.

Entering the new space, clients enter a secure, welcoming area that has client-engagement features like being able to talk to a trained counselor from a reception window. The first-contact specialists greet and assess clients promptly, and are able to make a connection with a client immediately to determine their needs in a private space, said Winters.

In designing the new space, two of a group of the underlying principles in the renovation included safety and security. Finding a private space to interface with clients in the past was always a challenge, she noted. In addition to privacy, the new building provides additional access to all, which includes access to people around disabilities. Every sign in the building is printed in English, Spanish and Braille. Alarm bells tone visually and auditorily. Doorframes are much larger than the previous ones and every space is able to accommodate a wheelchair user.

Access to language has also expanded. Within 15 minutes, staff members can, through a national phone service, access roughly 60 different languages to better connect clients with the kind of care they need, said Winters. In addition to Spanish-speakers being on site, there is also staff on hand that can refer to a cheat sheet for basic phrases to offer water or a place to sit.

Another guiding principle was an effort to be more gender inclusive, she said. There are no “men’s” or “women’s” bathroom signs that leave people wondering, “Where do I belong?” said Winters. Instead, there are “all gender” signs and baby changing stations located all over the building.

As for those with financial challenges, there is now a designated space with resources, so clients can grab an item without having to publicly ask and have it doled out.

“We don’t need them to say, ‘I can’t afford toothpaste,’” she said. “Now they can just grab what they need when they need it.”

In recent years, the organization has also begun to expand resources to more marginalized demographics, including Latinx survivors, LGBTQ+ survivors, survivors with disabilities and survivors in rural communities as well as children and immigrants. These marginalized identities, are at a higher risk for domestic violence, but are less likely to receive these resources, Winters said.

Moving forward, the organization is working on building out a prevention program and outreach, to try and reach people earlier in the escalation in domestic violence. A common misconception with domestic violence is that if a person being affected by it removes themselves from the situation, they’ll be okay, said Winters. Often, she said, that’s actually the beginning of rebuilding someone’s life. Economic realities that befall a survivor are often the aftermath of domestic violence.

“Research shows that people tend to call when the level of violence is extreme or the risk for homicide is extreme, and there is a decrease of all the resources that an individual needs to live their lives to the fullest. People are at the highest level of risk and lowest level of resources,” she said. “By reaching people earlier, we’re hoping we can eliminate the risk and high level of violence as well as dropping into poverty by helping develop a safety and well being plan.

“The sooner we can reach them, the better.”

Cold hands, warm hearts

On Sunday, Dec. 8, many took their cause to the course of the annual Hot Chocolate Run — many like Donna Korash-Schiff of Hadley.

With pointy-eared elf ear muffs strapped to her head, festive leggings showcasing various winter scenes, a sweater with Will Ferrell dressed as his namesake character in the 2003 movie “Elf,” and mint-green mittens, Korash-Schiff says she loves participating in the annual event.

“It’s such a great time. The community just comes out for this. When you think you’re not going to make it, there’s a whole line of people, cheering you on and encouraging you to finish,” she said. “And above all, it’s for a great cause. That’s why I do this and other races like it. I figured, if I’m going to run, it’s going to be for a good cause like Safe Passage or Meghan’s Light [in Florence].”

Established by Northampton residents Jennifer Dieringer and her husband John Frey, 2019 marked the 16th annual Hot Chocolate Run. Each year, the event has been tweaked a little here and there to make it more manageable and accommodate for its growing interest. The event has become so popular that this year’s registration saw more than 6,000 participants between the walk, fun run and race.

“Whether you’re competing, jogging, pushing a stroller or carrying a toddler, now the whole family can participate,” said Dieringer.

Temperatures early Sunday morning dipped into single digits as around 100 volunteers set the stage for the annual Hot Chocolate Run starting as early as 4:30 a.m. Among the many hands on deck is a crew of 14 that’s designated to fulfill one of the highlights of the event: hot chocolate.

This year, there were some major concerns as this was the first year that longtime sponsor Northampton Brewery wouldn’t be able to provide a beer-brewing kettle to create the massive amount of hot chocolate needed to serve the more than 6,000 registered participants. But as it turns out, things went over event better than expected, said Dieringer. In fact, some even commented that this year’s batch was hotter than previous year’s.

Northampton Coffee and Tart Baking Co. donated sugar, cocoa and vanilla as they have since the beginning. Our Family Farms, a Greenfield-based co-op of local dairy farmers, provided more than 400 gallons of milk.

For the past 11 years, Easthampton residents, Tina McElmoyl and her husband, Thomas Malsbury, have been volunteering for the event, hauling the donated ingredients and helping set up the final product. This year, McElmoyl and Malsbury hauled ingredients to Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center, located at the Franklin County Community Development Corp. in Greenfield.

“Lots of volunteers at Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center came together at the crack of dawn to combine the ingredients,” said McElmoyl. “They took [the batch] up to as high as was safe for the milk, steaming hot in pallet-sized, food-safe tanks … We transported around 500 gallons of hot chocolate.”

The insulation process was so successful that even after being transported and transferred into a line of insulated containers, the hot chocolate didn’t drop in temperature, she added.

But more than the hundreds of gallons of the piping hot beverages, the warmest part of the event lies within the cause, says Natasha Yakovlev, president of the Safe Passage Board of Directors.

And while the hot chocolate is certainly a crowd-pleaser, she says that participants know the cause they’re supporting. Fifteen years ago, Yakolev said goodbye to her mother, Sheila, who lost her battle with cancer. Her mother was a survivor of domestic violence and after her passing, Yakovlev donated her furniture to Safe Passage and began volunteering.

“I never left,” she said, reinforcing the impact domestic violence has. “Everyone knows why they’re here.”


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