Moms, Tigers reprise roll in Safewalk

The anti-domestic violence statement by Ridgefield High School football players and their moms at last year’s women’s center SafeWalk — players wearing their orange numbered jerseys, moms in their sons’ white away jerseys with corresponding numbers, walking together — started something.

When the women’s center holds its annual SafeWalk this Sunday, Oct. 4, at the Danbury Fair Mall, Ridgefield High School will again be represented by the Tigers football team, and also the girls’ basketball team.

A girls team from the Soccer Club of Ridgefield’s program is also participating, along with volunteers from Ridgefield Lionsheart and National Charity League groups from the high and middle schools.

The Ridgefield kids participating will be joined by Danbury High School teams.

“This year Chip Salvestrini, who is a Ridgefield resident and the Danbury athletic director, has decided to bring all fall sports teams from Danbury High School, along with the marching band,” said Kathy Graham of High Ridge.

A member of the women’s center board, Graham is co-chairing the SafeWalk this year with Debbie Przewlocki, her co-worker at Fairfield County Bank.

“We’re so happy that so many young people are participating,” Graham said.

“On the board our number one job is to raise awareness about our free services,” said Glori Norwitt, chair of the women’s center board of directors and a High Ridge neighbor of Graham’s.

“We want people to use our free services — whether it’s having our educators go into a preschool to talk about respect, or a Girl Scout troop having us speak to third graders about bullying, or the high school having us speak about healthy relationships. We can modify our education to any age, and a huge range of topics,” she said.

“Despite our name, we serve men, women, families, seniors, teens,” Norwitt said.

“The only way we can truly change the world is through education — and that’s very true with domestic violence,” she said.

Police give

The Ridgefield police officers union is supporting the women’s center walk with a $500 donation.

“We believe in what they do,” said Police Capt. Bryan Terzian, who proposed the donation to his colleagues.

“I just think that they provide an invaluable service to people we serve, and they’re there helping people who are victims of domestic violence. And the union wholeheartedly agrees, and was more than happy to donate so they can continue to do the fine work that they do,” he said.

“A lot of people utilized their service, and it’s a benefit to everyone — it just made perfect sense.”

Terzian had been approached by Graham, who knew him from her work helping organize town events through the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Ridgefield merchants association.

“The Ridgefield Police Department typically responds to over 100 domestic violence calls a year, of which half result in arrest,” Graham said.

Capt. Jeff Kreitz, public information officer of the Ridgefield Police, provided figures for the last year.

“Over the past year (09/28/2014 through 09/28/2015) we have handled 122 domestic incidents,” Capt. Kreitz wrote to The Press. “Of those 122 incidents, 43 involved an arrest being made.”

The women’s center works both to assist victims, and reduce domestic violence.

“Last year we provided service to over 26,000 people — that includes our education,” said Norwitt.

“We offer individual and group counseling, education, advocacy, training, and shelter, all for free, and confidential, 24-7. All in relation to domestic violence, sexual assault, and related issues such as bullying, self-esteem…

“The Ridgefield Police are great supporters of the women’s center, and were the pilot participants in our Lethality Assessment Program,” Norwitt added.

“It’s a statewide initiative of which the women’s center is a part. When police are on a domestic violence call they have 11 questions to review, and if they answer yes to a certain number of questions they automatically call the women’s center, on site, at that moment, and have the victim directly in contact with the women’s center…

“In the past the victim would be given a business card of the women’s center, or she could call the hotline at any time or come into the office. Now, she’s directly talking to a counselor to understand what we do and how we can help — all for free, and confidential.

“The Ridgefield Police are fantastic,” Norwitt added.

Ridgefield Social Service Director Tony Phillips is another supporter of the work of what is officially called the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, serving Danbury, Ridgefield and 11 neighboring communities.

Leaving isn’t easy

“Domestic violence is always a bigger problem than any community is aware of,” Phillips said. “Relationships are complex. A victim/survivor often relies on the perpetrator for housing, health coverage and financial stability. He/she is the parent of their children. What if he goes to jail: How will we pay our bills?

“Many think an easy answer is to ‘Just leave!’ But it is never easy,” Phillips said. “In fact one of the most dangerous things a victim can do is to leave. There is a statistic somewhere that suggests a victim (typically a woman) tries seven to nine times to leave before she is actually able to leave.”

The financial power of an abusive breadwinner is magnified if “you haven’t worked in 10 years (oftentimes leaving a career behind to become a stay-at-home parent) for five to 10 years,” Phillips said..

“I also remind people that no matter how many times the police or women’s center receive a call from a victim, that number is likely just the tip of an iceberg,” he said.

“…The fact is that victims only call for help a very small percentage of the times when they should have or could have called — i.e. years of aggressive, threatening or violent behavior could have dozens or hundreds of incidents that could have escalated to police … which might turn into a single call to the police/crisis hotline.”

40 years

The Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, founded in 1975 and having its 40th anniversary, had a busy last year.

“We served 3,585 clients with ‘direct service’ — where we’re one-on-one counseling, and shelter,” Norwitt said.

“The shelter has 13 beds for women and children. If men need shelter, we can place them in the appropriate, different shelter.

“We often have overflow,” she added. “We place in sister programs such as down in Stamford, or put them up in a hotel.”

The annual Women’s Center SafeWalk — a 4K (kilometer) walk inside the Danbury Fair Mall — is a “fund-raiser and awareness raiser,” Norwitt said.

Last year 415 people walked, and the event raised $64,000 for the center, pledged by over 800 donors.

This year’s walk should be even bigger.

“We’re hoping it will double, because of all the teens,” said Graham.

Registration starts at 8:30 on Sunday, Oct. 4. There’ll be some Zumba, the Danbury High School marching band will play The Star-Spangled Banner, then some stretching.

Before the walk begins, names will be read out — the names of all the domestic violence murder victims in the 13 towns served by the women’s center since adoption of Connecticut’s Domestic Violence law in 1986.

As the names are read teams that are walking will pick up red metal statues — each a “silent witness,” representing every domestic violence murder victim.

The names and statues will include Ridgefielder Simone Harris, who was killed by her ex-husband in 2003 in a brutal baseball bat murder.

“There are statues for each victim of domestic violence, and on the statue it has a paragraph specially about that person. It tells her story,” Graham said.

“We have 23 statues — all victims, plus one generic one for ‘unknown victims’ and one for future victims,” said Melanie Danyliw, director of training, program development and volunteer services at women’s center.

“We also have that huge purple ribbon — a symbol of the domestic violence movement, that we created so that people can hand write the name of a victim of intimate partner homicide who did not live in our service area — even when the victim is from another state as long as they, the survivor, lives in our area. They can ‘add their name to the voices demanding an end to the violence,’” she said.

If someone wants to add a name to the ribbon, they may either call 203-731-5200 ext. 237 by Friday, or come to the statue table before the walk starts, Danyliw said.

“While that’s a very somber part of the walk, the rest of the walk is very upbeat,” Graham said. “People are there, they’re trying to raise awareness, trying to raise money.”

In keeping with the less somber approach, The Hideaway on Grove Street is participating.

“After the walk, they’re inviting everyone to come back to their restaurant,” Graham said. “They get free nonalcoholic beverages for participants, 50-cent chicken wings, and happy hour prices on alcoholic beverages. It’s a sports bar — there’ll be football games.”

Graham and Norwitt suggested people interested in the women’s center, and in participating in the walk or otherwise supporting the center, go to its website at: www.wcogd.org.

“Everything’s on our website: Register, donate, read more information, see photos,” Graham said.

Ridgefield’s role

Ridgefield participates in a big way — in the walk, and in many aspects of supporting the women’s center.

In volunteer hours, and pure money donations, Ridgefield is a huge supporter of the Women’s Center. We are extremely thankful to Ridgefield,” Norwitt said.

“This is a moment when people can come and celebrate what we can do, in a positive way, to combat domestic violence.”

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