This weekend, nearly 200 people are expected to turn out for the 17th annual Run for Women.
The 5- and 10-kilometer races are open to women and girls, but all community members are invited to support the runners a symbolic way of reminding the central Kenai Peninsula that it takes a whole community to solve a community problem.
The run is the Women's Resource and Crisis Center's annual awareness drive. While some proceeds may come from runners collecting pledges, the purpose of the Saturday event is to remind community members that domestic violence and sexual assault are all too real problems in the area.
"Apparently, Kenai has the third or fourth highest incidence for domestic violence arrests," said WRCC Executive Director Cheri Smith, noting recent statistics.
The WRCC tries to combat the problem with a series of services from shelters for battered women and children to intervention programs for men arrested for domestic violence and in-school programs to educate children on relationship safety.
Among the center's key programs are a 32-bed emergency shelter for women and children seeking to escape domestic violence or sexual abuse; a 25-bed transitional center where women who have been victims of violence, those with substance abuse issues or families with housing needs can stay for up to two years; and a range of walk-in services to help protect, educate and support women looking to change their lives.
There also is a 24-hour crisis line for women or men in need of support or help; silent court accompaniment for women in need of support facing the legal system; a state-certified batterers' intervention program for men arrested for domestic violence; and child-care assistance for parents trying to raise children while working or attending school.
"It's a pretty big operation," Smith said.
But while the center provides as many resources as possible, domestic violence remains a significant issue in the community, she said.
In fiscal year 2004, the emergency shelter housed 84 women and 71 children, while the center served 373 walk-in clients and 169 men attended batterers' intervention classes. Smith said that while some people do need help more than once, the vast majority of the people who walk into the center are new clients.
"We average more than 200 new clients a year. These are people we've never had contact with previously," she said.
"Domestic violence exists here. It is a problem."
Nonetheless, it's a problem Smith said she believes the community is fighting, albeit slowly.
"I think as a community, we are working toward providing more support for victims and holding batterers more accountable," she said.
And, the community is working on education.
Smith said there is no profile for a person who commits domestic violence. Rather, she said, "it has to do with the values and belief system somebody holds: that they have a right to do this."
"When you're dealing with people who think they have a right to do this, it's the belief you have to try to change. It takes a long time," she said.
Still, there's hope.
Despite the high number of domestic violence incidents in the area, repeat offenses after a person has taken the batterers' intervention program is generally low. And, the center is working with schools to teach children about conflict resolution and dating violence, in hope that future generations won't face the same problems.
The Run for Women is just one more step in educating the community, Smith said.
The event will begin with check-in from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the green strip park on Main Street Loop. Preregistered runners must check in, but those who have not signed up still can register until 9 a.m. on race day. The late-registration fee is $20.
Runners will receive a 2004 Run for Women T-shirt and coupons from race sponsors. There also will be a $50 gift certificate for the runner who collects the most pledges, though pledges are not required to participate in the event.
The races a 5K and a 10K will begin at 10 a.m. and loop through the streets of Kenai. Following the race, there will be an awards ceremony and picnic open to community members.
"We encourage everybody to come out, bring the family," Smith said. "It's a fun day."
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