CLAREMONT — The 13th annual Steppin' Up walk/run got lucky with the weather on Saturday as the rain ceased and the temperatures warmed considerable compared to the days leading up to the event. This year 746 people participated, raising $74,299 to put toward the Turning Points Network's mission to help people who are escaping from domestic violence. The event begins at Claremont Middle School, where the gymnasium is set up with a registration desk and a table where snacks are available. In the cafeteria volunteers were set up at several stations to accept the funds that were raised by 77 teams, with one table set aside for those who were raising money individually. Money raised was also reported via the internet.
Out in the parking lot in front of the school, the crowd gathered to await the start of the event, but also to be addressed by its hosts. Marie Linebaugh, the program director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, was in Claremont to present the Visionary Voice award. This award is sponsored by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center headquartered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They select 50 winners each year, one from each state.
According to Linebaugh, the national organization is looking for people who are leading initiatives for change to end sexual violence. The people nominated, she said, go “beyond the norm,” are really engaged, and are “leading in a meaningful and creative way.” Before taking the stage, Linebaugh said that the award is usually presented in Concord, but this year it was decided that Steppin' Up was a good opportunity to do the presentation in the winner's home community.
This year's winner in New Hampshire is Liza Draper, the program coordinator for the TLC Learning Center and Rural Outright. Among other achievements, Draper inaugurated SHINE (Sexual Health Information Network and Education), a mobile unit of TLC that brings medically-accurate, comprehensive and inclusive sexual health information to locations throughout Sullivan County. Linebaugh described Draper as a bridge-builder who connected people in need to local support services. Through her involvement with Rural Outright Draper has been an advocate for the LGBT+ community, which experiences sexual violence at higher rates than the cis-gendered population.
“She sees a need and figures out how to meet it,” Linebaugh told the hundreds of people gathered in the parking lot. “She meets people where they are, and she is that unique combination: a dreamer and a doer.”
In accepting the Visionary Voice award Draper thanked the assembly for supporting TLC and said it was good to see a lot of young faces in the crowd. Draper has participated in all 13 of the Steppin' Up events.
The presentation was followed by a sobering address from a Turning Points Network client. She described her former domestic predicament, which included being constantly demeaned and having her sense of self-worth relentless undermined. Her ex-husband was cruel to her pets, controlled her access to their own daughter, and drove away all of her friends.
She turned to Turning Points four years ago and began to rebuild her life. The staff helped her to recognize the toxic nature of her relationship, and she successfully sought a divorce. Turning Points provided material aid in the form of household goods and emotional aid in the form of counseling and a 24-hour crisis line. They also guided her toward furthering her education.
She concluded by noting that Turning Points Network helped 900 men, women, and children in these ways in the last year alone.
And with that 553 adults, 193 children, and 25 dogs set off on a 5 kilometer course that took them on a loop through downtown Claremont and back to the school. Meanwhile, 80 volunteers worked to tally the funds raised, clean up the site, and prepare for the return of the runners and walkers. In the end the top three fundraising groups were “Be the Change” of the Turning Points Network, “the Saints” of the Kearsarge Community Presbyterian Church, and “the Schleppers,” a one-woman effort by Brenda Shapiro of Sunapee, who this year raised $6,000 for the Turning Points Network.