story and photos by Debbie Miller, special to The City Wire
Men from law enforcement, government and the business world donned heels instead of running shoes Saturday (May 31) for a relay aimed at helping end family violence. Champions for Heels, a new fundraiser held at the Bentonville High School track, raised approximately $26,500 for the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter.
Competitors donned heels of varied heights and accompanying kilts, tutus, colorful socks and garters to complete the ensemble. A team from the Rogers Police Department dubbed “RPD 1” won the relay competition, and Rob Saunders won a “walk out” contest prior to the relays. The “walk out” participants competed in such areas as balance, strutting and gracefulness.
Eva Laurin, development director for the shelter, said the event was aimed at providing a family-friendly, fun activity for the community. A key message related to the fundraiser, Laurin said, is that ending domestic violence is not just a woman’s issue, but rather a cause for the whole community. The shelter’s mission is to provide services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and to empower them to build lives free of violence, she noted.
Laurin and outreach director Rose Stanton said about 20 teams signed up to compete in the relay competition, and they estimated some 250 people, including the runners, attended the activities. The relay race for men is a new fundraiser for the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter. The shelter’s signature fundraising event is Fresh StART, which is planned for October.
Melanie Palmer, the shelter’s executive director, said the organization provided shelter to more than 600 people last year and served a total of 3,000 individuals. The Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter is the only domestic violence shelter in Benton County, and it provides emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence, a 24-hour crisis phone line, advocacy, children’s programs, legal advocacy, support groups and outreach services.
Duncan Mac Naughton, executive vice president, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Walmart U.S., was honorary chair for the event. During remarks to the crowd, he encouraged community members to become advocates by touring the shelter, knowing ways to help victims of domestic violence and being willing to educate the community about the issue. He also told those in attendance that a way to help is by donating to help the organization, including cleaning out closets and giving items to the shelter’s thrift store. He also suggested volunteering at the shelter and at the thrift store.
Prior to the program, Palmer said the most dangerous time for domestic violence victims is when they are trying to leave the abusive situation. That’s what makes the work of the shelter so important in providing a safe haven, she noted.
The number of clients served has continued to grow in recent years, Palmer said, adding, “The demand for our services is increasing.” Events like the relay help to raise both money to provide needed services and increased awareness about the issue, she said.