By Keysha Drexel
Like a lot of other women, Amy Reese had heard the statistics that indicate domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women–more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.
But it wasn’t until she got involved with the women at Hannah Home Shelby who are trying to rebuild their lives that the Greystone mother realized that she couldn’t even imagine what it was like to walk in a day in their shoes.
“In our ‘280’ lives, sometimes we don’t realize that not too far away, there are women and children in great need,” she said. “That’s the mindset we’re hoping to change with the race.”
The race is the annual King’s Home Run Away 8K on Oct. 19. The event will benefit Hannah Home Shelby, a ministry of King’s Home that serves abused women and their children.
Reese started the event seven years ago after becoming involved in the Hannah Home Shelby Auxiliary.
Reese, a native of Gulf Breeze, Fla., got involved with the auxiliary group in 2006.
“I was trying to find a way to give back and get involved in the community,” she said.
King’s Home spent several years raising the $1.4 million needed to build the 13,000-square-foot, Christ-centered home that provides long-term care, spiritual healing and a loving environment for domestic abuse victims and their children. The home was built in 2007.
“They had this wonderful home built, but there were still operating expenses to cover, and so the women in the auxiliary started brainstorming on ways to raise money,” Reese said.
Reese has been an active runner for years and said she uses the time to think and pray. It was on one of her daily runs that she came up with an idea on how to raise money for Hannah Home Shelby.
“I was running and I started thinking about that verse in Hebrews that says ‘And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’ and that’s really how I got the whole idea for the race,” she said.
Reese took her fundraising idea to the auxiliary group and enlisted her friend, Angela Dunn of Brook Highland, to help her organize the first event in 2007.
Dunn, who worked as a prosecuting attorney in the Shelby County district attorney’s office for 11 years, said she immediately jumped at the chance to help women who were victims of domestic violence.
“I saw a lot of domestic violence cases during those 11 years, and I saw firsthand how this affects women and children across the board. Domestic violence happens across every socioeconomic group and it even happens to the very affluent,” she said. “The race gave me a way to continue to do something to help these women and children who have been so devastated by domestic violence.”
As they planned that first event, Reese found new supporters at St. Vincent’s One Nineteen, where she often went to exercise.
Reese and Dunn partnered with Mandy Cox, the fitness general manager at St. Vincent’s One Nineteen, to get the first event off the ground.
“The first year we had about 75-100 participants, and then we started giving donations to the home at Christmastime and have partnered with Amy and Angela ever since to do what we can to raise awareness about domestic violence,” Cox said.
The first year, the event was just a walk but by the second year was listed on fundraising race websites. Since then, the race has been held every October in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“We’ve really tried to expand it into a community event to get as many people involved as possible,” Cox said.
Now, St. Vincent’s One Nineteen gives Christmas presents to the children and women at Hannah Home Shelby each year and helps women trying to rebuild their lives in other ways, Reese said.
“They’ve just been an incredible partner. They will treat women from Hannah Home Shelby to makeovers at the spa and really do anything they can to help,” Reese said.
This year’s 8K event will start at St. Vincent’s One Nineteen at 8 a.m. It will include a one-mile fun run and walk for runners and walker of all ages, starting at 9 a.m., Reese said.
“This is something the whole family can participate in each year,” she said.
Reese’s own family, including her husband, Joseph, and sons Joseph III, 12, and Davis, 9, will be participating again this year, she said.
Dunn said she’ll also be participating in the event with her husband, Chris, and their two sons.
Both women said their work with the auxiliary inspires them to try and grow the race each year and to get more and more people involved with the efforts to help domestic violence victims.
“When women come to the home, some of them just have the clothes on their back, and their lives have been completely devastated,” Reese said. “When you see that, it changes you. It changes how you live your life knowing that there are women who have nothing and have been through so much.”
During her work with the auxiliary, Reese said, she’s formed close relationships with domestic violence victims and said she learned that beyond the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter, the women also need encouragement.
“We all need encouragement, and we all need people to walk along beside us,” she said. “And while everyone has struggles in their lives, the difference is that these women don’t have anyone to turn to, and you want to be the person they can turn to in their time of need. Everyone who walks in the door at the Hannah Home Shelby needs to know that there is hope, and that’s what we want to do–give them hope.”
Reese, Dunn and Cox all mentioned one particular former resident of the Hannah Home Shelby who continues to inspire them and motivate them to make the fundraising event bigger and better each year.
“Stephanie Bridges is a true miracle survivor story,” Dunn said. “She was a nurse and had kids, and her husband was very violent. She threatened to leave him, and he shot her. She barely escaped with her life.”
While she was in the hospital, Bridges heard about the Run Away Race and contacted Reese shortly after her recovery.
Bridges has become a kind of spokesperson for the Run Away Race, Reese said, and her story has a powerful effect on all who hear it.
“She first spoke at the race in 2009, and we were all just blown away by her, by her story of survival. I think she’s one of the most courageous people I have ever met, and I know by speaking up, she is helping so many other women who are staying silent about what’s happening to them,” Reese said.
And most women do stay silent about domestic violence, Dunn said, because even in our modern world, the subject is a bit taboo.
“It’s one of those dirty little secrets in our society, and no one wants to admit it if they’ve been touched by domestic violence in one way or another,” Dunn said. “I think that’s why cancer runs and things like that have more participating because there’s not this stigma attached to it, but everyone has been touched by it in one way or another.”
But Dunn, Reese and Cox said they are determined to keep growing the Run Away Race and their efforts to get more people talking about domestic violence and working to combat it.
“People may not want to talk about it, but it’s there. Domestic violence destroys the lives of so many women and children every day, and anything we can do to get more people to consider what it might be like to walk in the shoes of someone who has experienced domestic violence, the better,” Reese said.
Race day registration for the 2013 Run Away Race begins at 7 a.m. The first 300 participants to register get a race T-shirt. For more information, visit www.runawayrace.com.