Saturday started out chilly for the 11th annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes. But the men walking – in stilettos, wedges, flats, and tennis shoes – warmed up quickly as they made the mile-long journey south from Northeastern State University to Keetoowah Street and back to Norris Park.

Walk A Mile In Her Shoes is a unique way for men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence and sexual assault. Along with raising awareness, the event raises funds for the host, Help In Crisis.

Laura Kuester, HIC executive director, said the number of participants and onlookers was lower this year because of COVID-19.

“We had 85 walkers, and there were 50 to 60 people in the park, cheering on the guys who were walking. I was pleased with that,” she said. “Another 20 people walked virtually from around Cherokee County and other counties.”

Some women did the mile walk, too, but there wasn’t a survivors' walk like in years past. Other features, such as the kids’ zone and vendors, were also not part of this year’s event.

“Despite that, I feel we still had a pretty decent turnout. It was nice to be out and seeing people and doing something nice for the community,” said Kuester.

Some men walked by themselves Saturday, but many came in groups. At least four participants had walked all 11 years. Many representatives of local law enforcement, tribal offices, businesses, churches, and other nonprofits donned high-heeled shoes, wrapped their ankles for safety or the shoes so they stayed on, and some carried signs.

Walking for the fifth year, Russell Sain brought his dog Sammy, who even had on pink shoes. Sain also walked with his son-in-law and grandsons, who are 2 years old and 10 months old.

“I have four daughters and my mom, and we try to support women every chance we can get,” said Sain.

This was Adam Willis’ first time to walk in the event.

“It wasn’t bad the first half; the second half was a doozy,” he said. “I think it supports a great cause. I look forward to doing it again for years to come.”

After the walk, and the guys had a chance to change shoes and ice their ankles, Kuester handed out awards.

Justin Carnes raised the most money as an individual walker, $630, and he said it was because of generous co-workers, church members, and friends. With this being his sixth year, Carnes said he “got smart” and wore wedge-heeled shoes.

“I do it for the survivors. I know, unfortunately, a lot of people who were victims of domestic violence,” he said. “I’m glad to walk as many years as I have. This is one of the greatest causes we have in Cherokee County.”

The largest nonprofit or church group this year – and the one that raised the most money – has been walking since the first HIC event. Tahlequah United Methodist Church had 17 in-person participants and six others walked virtually. Three members of the Robert Young family, who walked virtually Friday evening, came to walk at the event.

Mary's Liquor was the largest corporate sponsor, and owner Dirk Van Veen walked for his 10th year; he only missed the first year. He has about worn out the shoes he has used every year.

“I can’t think of an organization that does more needed work than Help In Crisis,” said Van Veen, who has been serving on the HIC board for over seven years.

He said his team did well on money this year, but the audience was missed at the park and along the route.

“It’s more about awareness than the money,” he said.

Kuester said the money raised this year wasn’t too far off from “normal” years.

“That success is due to community support. Money is raised through sponsorships, not so much from the walker registrations,” she said “We have great sponsors.”

Some businesses and organizations have sponsored Walk A Mile for all 11 years, and Kuester was excited that some new organizations decided to become sponsors this year. The Tahlequah Starbucks had 10 volunteers at the event, and they also donated coffee and pastries. The business has been donating food to Linda’s House, the HIC shelter, once a week.

“We honestly couldn't provide services without support from the community. It enables us to do things that with grant money we can’t do,” said Kuester.

Examples of items clients have received assistance with include hotel rooms, utility bills, household items for a new apartment, and plane and bus tickets.

“We flew someone home to their family in Hawaii last summer. We put people in safe places so they can start over,” said Kuester.

Another annual HIC fundraiser is a masquerade ball, and Kuester said board members will discuss this week whether one will be held in October.

She said many times when HIC or the shelter needs items, staff will ask the community – and people respond quickly and graciously.

“We have such great community support,” said Kuester. “We’re really blessed.”

Check it out

For more information on the services provided by Help In Crisis, 205 N. College Ave, or to donate, visit www.helpincrisisinc.org or call 918-456-0673. The Crisis Hotline number is 800-300-5321.

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