In their daily work, postal carriers Laddie Novak, Todd Buehlmann and Dan Kokesh log many miles on their rounds.

But Saturday, they joined together for one of the most important miles they could ever cover.

They were among approximately 100 participants in the 11th annual "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes" event in Yankton. The event raises both funds and awareness for those impacted by domestic violence and physical/sexual assault.

Novak used a work-related comparison to show the event’s importance to the three men and why they were willing to slip into bright red high heels — the official footwear for the event.

"As letter carriers, we walk quite a few miles every day for us and our job," he said. "But this is an opportunity for us to ‘walk a mile’ for everyone who is affected by domestic violence."

This year’s event was held for the first time on Levee Street, bordering Riverside Park, according to Desiree Johnson, executive director of the River City Domestic Violence Center and River City Family Connections.

While the location changed this year, the purpose remained the same, Johnson said.

"The mission of ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’ is to create a unique and powerful public experience that educates individuals and communities about sexual violence and domestic violence," she said. "Typically, we get 65 to 70 people come out (as walkers) for this event, so this year is above average."

Saturday’s event was held in conjunction with Family Fun Day that offered inflatables and games along with a meal for purchase. Altogether, Johnson estimated that around 500 people were on hand for the activities.

Previously, only men participated in "Walk A Mile." This year, women were invited to join the walk, and children were also part of it.

"Domestic violence is a family issue, and we want families to come out and support those who are struggling," Johnson said. "A lot of people have been doing (the walk) for several years, but we did have some rookies this year."

When it comes to the tone of "Walk A Mile," organizers seek a balance between the fun and serious, Johnson said.

"I think the awareness of domestic violence is very significant to the community," she said. "But we have also taken a light-hearted approach to event, which makes it easier for people to come out and join us (on such a serious subject)."

 

"ME TOO"

Johnson credited another major factor — the rise of the "Me Too" movement — as contributing to this year’s increase in "Walk A Mile" participation. "Me Too" has seen high-profile individuals in a wide variety of fields step forward with their stories of sexual harassment and physical/sexual abuse.

"The ‘Me Too’ movement has given people the courage to step forward," she said. "These are people that we see as faces of our nation, saying that we are giving everyday people the opportunity to feel comfortable and safe in saying ‘I am a victim of domestic violence.’"

In turn, victims from all walks of life are speaking out, Johnson said.

"Victims can come forward. It’s not such a taboo subject. They know they can find the support they need if they come out of the shadows and talk about it," she said.

"People can say ‘I’m a survivor of domestic violence’ or even ‘I’m an offender (who has committed) domestic violence.’ People want to know how to end this senseless violence."

When it comes to "Me Too," Lt. Todd Brandt with the Yankton Police Department has seen the impact locally.

"‘Me Too’ has been a great movement," he said. "We want people to know you’re not alone anymore. You don’t have to live with the fear. Youi can reach out, and we can help you."

In one aspect, Brandt supports "Walk A Mile" as a police officer.

"As a police department, this is an event that we fully support. It raises awareness of domestic violence in the community" he said. "It’s also showing the places and resources for those reaching out for help. Law enforcement is fully supportive of the River City Domestic Violence Center and Family Connections for their vital role they play."

However, Brandt also supports "Walk A Mile" for personal reasons.

"I’m on the board of the River City Domestic Violence Center," he said. "Also, I have a wife and daughter, and I never want them to experience anything like (violence or assault). By taking part in ‘Walk A Mile,’ I’m supporting the (domestic violence) center and my family as well."

Johnson noted her shelter maintains close ties with first responders, especially the police, because of volatile situations that may arise.

"We have an incredible relationship with the law enforcement community," she said. "They are the guardians who come to the front lines to help if we have problems at the shelter."

Unfortunately, Johnson has seen a rise in both the number and intensity of cases. The shelter and visitation center has stepped up its security measures.

"Every year, we have seen an increase in our numbers. What we are seeing more of now is the increased lethalness of the situations," she said. "It’s much scarier and much more of a threat that these incidents end up in death or severe injuries. Ten years ago, you didn’t see that (fatal outcome) as much."

 

CAMPUS SAFETY

College campuses are dealing with the issue of domestic violence and physical/sexual assault. The situation can be especially new and frightening for freshmen who are living away from home for the first time.

"A lot of times, a student is just branching out from under the wings of their parents," she said. "They need a reminder of what safety looks like, whether it’s the buddy system or taking notice of your surroundings. At the end of the day, you need to make good choices."

College students also need an awareness surrounding their relationships, Johnson said.

"On college campuses, they teach (students) what consent looks like," she said. "Not everyone knows it. We need to teach schools to spread the message of what healthy relationships look like."

During Saturday’s walk, two college students came dressed for the occasion. They identified themselves only as "Captain America" and "Rapunzel." They work for "Care Actors" based out of Sioux Falls.

"‘Care Actors’ has many characters that come to events like this. We have Batman, Spiderman and others like it. We came out today for the walk and also to meet the kids during Family Fun Day," the young man said.

"I chose Captain America to show a superhero’s support (for victims of violence). It’s really important and really great to see the community of Yankton come together for a cause like this. This is a serious issue for today’s society, even a fun event like this."

The man said was making his first visit to the Yankton event and decided to enter the walk at the last minute, borrowing a pair of high heels.

"I’m not sure how to walk in high heels," he said. "I’ve been told to put the weight in the front of your foot. This is definitely a new experience for me."

"Rapunzel" said she was part of last year’s "Walk A Mile" in Yankton but returned this year’s with much more of an understanding of its workings.

She noted this year’s new location and the inclusion of women in the walk.

"Sexual assault isn’t just something that affects women. It affects men as well," she said. "And as women, we don’t just rely on men. We can take this cause into our own hands, and we can also fight it."

In that respect, "Me Too" has played a key role, she said.

"I really think it has brought a lot of awareness to people who really haven’t thought a lot about it before," she said.

"Captain America" agreed, noting that the movement has spread quickly.

"A lot of famous people in the Hollywood community are committed to something like this," he said. "But we also know this (harassment and violence) can happen to anyone, and it’s a continuing issue we face together."

"Rapunzel" said she was glad to be part of Yankton’s effort. "It’s great to be part of a company that helps support a cause like this," she said.

 

SHOWING SUPPORT

Saturday’s participants showed their support in different ways.

Besides donning the high heels, Yankton Deputy Fire Chief Larry Nickles painted his helmet pink with washable color.

"I saw the idea online. You have some fire departments who paint everything pink," he said. "Six of (firefighters) are walking today. It’s a fun thing, and I’ll try to make it an annual thing."

Besides his role as a firefighter, Nickles became involved for personal reasons.

"My significant other serves on the board for the women’s shelter, and I’m here to support it," he said. "Our Fire & Iron Firefighter Motorcycle Club also raises money for the shelter, so we support it in that way."

Nickles was making his first "Walk A Mile," so he received advice.

"I was told to make sure you wear socks," he said. "I always wondered how they walked around on 3- or 4-inch heels. I’m about to find out."

Not all the "Walk A Mile" supporters were found on the street.

Steve Huff and Kevin Haselhorst fired up the grill and made about 200 hot dogs and 150-250 burgers that were sold as a fundraiser for the Yankton shelter. The two men were assisted by Haselhorst’s son, Cale.

"We had a good turnout. The hot dogs come from Sheboygan and the hamburger was privately donated," Huff said. "We had a ‘patty party’ where we took the frozen logs of meat and made it into patties. We made 300 patties."

Kevin Haselhorst noted the "patty party" was spread out between last Wednesday and Thursday nights. The donated beef was made into one-third pound patties. The crew hauled the meat and Don Kettering’s grill into place by 9 a.m. Saturday, using the trailer from First Dakota National Bank where Haselhorst works.

The Haselhorsts hold a personal connection to "Walk A Mile" as their wife and mother, Amy Haselhorst, works at the River City Family Connections visitation center.

"This is my second year of being involved with this, and I’m glad to be part of a great event," Kevin said. "Everybody just continues to be supportive of the cause. It touches a lot of people, and it’s a great thing to be part of."

Next door, Jesse Bailey and Cameron Guevara were filling orders for food and beverages. Bailey directs Pathways Shelter for the Homeless, while Guevara recently transferred to Mount Marty College to complete his degree and to work as an assistant coach with the baseball team.

Bailey said agencies work together on each other’s events, and he responded to Family Connection coordinator Brad Link’s invitation to volunteer at Saturday’s event.

"It’s good to support each other," Bailey said. "We work for different causes, but we all work together."

Guevara said he was working the event as part of his community outreach. However, he noted that the domestic violence and physical/sexual assault are major issues for college students.

"It’s a big deal for anybody. But it is a big deal for college students, especially those coming into a new town," he said. "We need to help them to be aware. Everything works better that way."

Regardless of the situation, Johnson advises reporting anything that appears wrong.

"My best advice is, if you see something, say something. It doesn’t have to be (contacting) the individual for whom it may be happening," she said. "In fact, it may not be safe to step in and interfere. Call 911 and report it."

Johnson said she was pleased with Saturday’s walk, although three participants treated it as a dash.

"We had three of them who sprinted to the finish line," she said. "They were done in less than two minutes. I believe that’s a record."

Saturday’s event was just wrapping up, and Johnson was already looking to the future.

"This was the first year we were on Levee Street. People enjoyed the day with their families," she said. "We already have a lot of ideas on how to make it even better next year."

 

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