TRR photos by Jonathan Charles Fox

Representing all age groups, the Ruiz family, from Livingston Manor, showed up in full force to participate in the seventh annual “RISE: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event held at the government center in Monticello.

It's not all fun and games

I’m not gonna lie: as many of you suspect, I have a pretty cool job. Whether I’m attending a concert under the stars, taking my seat at a sold-out performance of “Annie,” or photographing kids flying their kites in the great outdoors, more often than not, I’m having fun with Dharma the Wonder Dog along for the ride. That said, the Upper Delaware River region and the Catskills as a whole also play host to important events throughout the year that touch, motivate and inspire us all to be (IMHO) better people and good neighbors, the kind of friends who can count on each other in good times and bad.

One organization comprising individuals who inspire me is the Boys and Girls Clubs (BGC) of Northern Orange and Sullivan Counties, and although I have been to the BGC headquarters in the Town of Wallkill many times, The River Reporter’s publisher Laurie Stuart asked me to join her for a tour of the facilities last Wednesday. “Why do I need to go?” I whimpered. “I’ve been there 100 times,” I exaggerated, in an attempt to have a night at home, planted in front of the TV. “I’d like it if you joined me,” Stuart purred. “Besides, you can take pictures and introduce me to your pals.”

Dramatically sighing, I acquiesced and off we went. Naturally, I learned a few things on the tour, in addition to facts I had previously grasped. Not only does the Boys and Girls Club provide a “safe place to learn and grow” fostering “ongoing relationships with caring, adult professionals” (www.bgcorange.org), but office manager and BGC “Jack of all trades “ Shane Merone explained a lot of the intricacies that go into running the organization during the year, which includes an incredibly successful summer camp program. “Our youth development staff is carefully selected for their experience and interests,” executive director Lori Rivenburgh explained to the tour group, “and all of our programs are run in accordance with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.”

“Who knew?” I whispered in Dharma’s furry ear, observing publisher Stuart deep in conversation with other neophytes following the formal presentation. “And here I thought,” I said to the dog, “it was all just fun and games.”

Meanwhile, there was nothing funny about my next stop, where plans were underway for the 7th annual RISE: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, held last Thursday at the government center in Monticello, NY. RISE (which stands for Rape Intervention, Services and Education) has been (since 1987) “working to support survivors, provide outreach and prevent sexual abuse by dispelling myths about rape and sexual abuse.” The concept behind “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” is simple: “Men are encouraged to call, gather and work together, or with RISE, to talk about helping peers and young men respect women and stop sexual violence.”

I made my way into the building, stopping to chat with RISE program manager Debbie O’Malley. “Wow!” O’Malley said, “look at the size of this crowd!” With more than 120 in attendance, the lobby of the government center was mobbed with men and women, many of whom were wearing versions of the red pumps that have become representative of the walk. O’Malley also pointed out an addition this year called the “Red Sand Project,” in which participants literally pour colored sand into cracks of the sidewalks, to “highlight how people slip through the cracks via human trafficking.” While the reason for the event is more than sobering, there was an upbeat air of hope for the future before, during, and after the walk, as like-minded individuals gathered to hear words of encouragement from New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, followed by Safe Harbor coordinator Alex Boswell, who spoke on behalf of Safe Homes-Orange County.

While my day-to-day routine often revolves around the “Three P’s” (plays, performers and puppet shows,) it’s good to be reminded why local newspapers like The River Reporter exist and how even I can help to bring awareness to the more important issues that often go unseen but lie just beneath the surface. It’s not all fun and games. The RISE program is funded in part through grants provided by Catskill Regional Medical Center and the New York State Department of Health, along with the New York State Office of Victim Services, which includes a crisis hotline (845/791-9595), counseling and support groups, volunteer training and police, court and emergency room advocacy. For more information, call 845/794-3300. For a complete photo album of the event, visit www.facebook.com/theriverreporter and click RISE: Walk A Mile In Her Shoes.

 

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