Ten years and running to fight abuse

Ten years and running to fight abuse

Run for Rachel will pay tribute to its volunteers

Runners at the starting line of the 2004 Run for Rachel
Runners at the starting line of the 2004 Run for Rachel

For the 10th straight year, competitive runners will join with victims’ advocates in a race through the streets of Livingston, aimed at raising funds and awareness for the fight against domestic abuse.

The event is the five-kilometer Run for Rachel, a benefit for the Rachel Coalition that begins at 9 a.m. on Sunday, May 23, at the Memorial Oval in Livingston.

The milestone anniversary will be marked with a gala event on May 4 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn (see sidebar), and, at the race, a special tribute not just to the runners but to some 50 volunteers and sponsors who have worked behind the scenes at five or more races. In addition to the ceremony celebrating their contributions to the effort, said Rachel Coalition chair Melanie Levitan of Morris Township, “we are giving them a special gift: runners’ water bottles — the safe, non-plastic kind.”

The coalition was founded in 1997 as a division of the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest NJ to provide services and support for domestic abuse victims. It has nine partner agencies in the Jewish community. “But we serve a nonsectarian population,” said Levitan. “All of our services are open to anybody.”

She has been involved in the run since it began in 2000.

“It was a smash hit from the beginning,” she said. In its first year, the race drew 973 participants, and in some years since then, there have been more than 1,000 runners.

The competition attracts what Levitan called “serious runners” as well as local supporters of the coalition, and other adults and children who take part in a less strenuous three-kilometer walk. They travel through a loop of streets Levitan described as “out and back, flat and rolling, and residential.”

The run is officially certified by United States American Track and Field, an organization of those “serious runners.” But it is open to men, women, and children of any level of skill or endurance.

ATF members pay $20 to participate; for others, the cost is $22 for those who sign up before May 17, $25 thereafter.

Beyond its obvious function as a fund-raiser, “the run gives exposure to the Rachel Coalition, so the community remembers that it is there,” said JFS executive director Reuben Rotman. “There is something empowering about 1,000 people coming together on a Sunday morning because they are committed to educating the community and providing services for victims of domestic violence.”

According to Rotman’s estimate, on a monthly basis, some 75 to 100 people receive mental health and/or legal counseling through the coalition. Another 20 seek help through the coalition’s emergency phone lines. Some 200 others are served through the Court Advocate Program, where JFS personnel accompany victims to Essex County Family Court to help them obtain orders of protection against abusive spouses.

“In the past 10 years we have had thousands of clients,” Rotman said.

And that number has increased disproportionately in the past six months, said Levitan. “The economy seems to be part of it,” she said. “Although stress does not cause domestic violence, it can bring it out. Also, people are getting to know us. We have done tremendous outreach this year, so people are more aware of us.”

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