Coon Rapids student group’s goal to end violence

The rain falling outside Sunday morning forced the annual Stop Domestic and Sexual Violence Walk-a-thon put on by the student members of the Coon Rapids High School’s chapter of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America inside to the school’s fieldhouse.

But that did not put a damper on the spirits, nor the intent of the students in their goal of creating awareness of and ending domestic and sexual violence, as well as raising money for Alexandra House, a shelter for battered women and their children in Anoka County.

For the first time in its seven-year history at Coon Rapids High School, the annual Stop Domestic and Sexual Violence Walkathon had to be moved indoors because of the rain outside. Participants walked inside the fieldhouse instead.
For the first time in its seven-year history at Coon Rapids High School, the annual Stop Domestic and Sexual Violence Walkathon had to be moved indoors because of the rain outside. Participants walked inside the fieldhouse instead.

In the event’s previous six years, it has taken place in the spring, but a change in the timing for entering projects in the national FCCLA competition prompted the decision to move the walk-a-thon to the fall, according to Karen Sherga, family and consumer sciences teacher at Coon Rapids High School and FCCLA adviser.

But the FCCLA walk-a-thon is more than just a competition entry, it is a community service project for the students, Sherga said.

And having the event Oct. 6 coincided with the marking of Domestic Violence Awareness Month nationally and in the county.

Alexandra House had it annual Walk for Hope the previous weekend.

In 2012, Alexandra House provided services to 3,134 men, women and children, including sheltering 637 women and children. Other programs include youth services, legal advocacy, follow-up services, therapy and support services, community education and hospital advocacy.

The walk-a-thon was not a one-off event this month for the organizing’s FCCLA committee of Emily Ratzloff, Hailee Swanson, Kylie Rigstad, Maggie Milless, Brie Mueller, Megan Przybilla and Rachel Eichstadt.

The committee has plans for a run the week of Halloween to continue drawing awareness and restocking the food shelf at Alexandra House, Sherga said.

The need for awareness and steps to end domestic and sexual violence is amply illustrated by figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control which show that more than one million women are raped every year and nearly one in five women have been raped in their lifetime.

And recent domestic violence murders in the Twin Cities have also raised awareness to the issue of domestic violence and the need to find solutions, according to Sherga.

Sherga pointed to the jury conviction last week of Jeffrey Trevino in the murder of his wife and the murder of Anarae Schunk, whose memorial service took place this past weekend.

It is important that high school students learn about healthy relationships and be aware of relationships that are not healthy and can lead to them becoming victims of violence, Sherga said.

And that is part of the interpersonal relationships class Sherga teaches at the school, she said.

Tables were set up inside the fieldhouse by Alexandra House and Headway Emotional Health Services, a Twin Cities-based comprehensive health and human services organization, to provide information about their respective agencies and answer questions.

Both have a presence at Coon Rapids High School, as well.

Alexandra House has an advocate who visits the school on a weekly basis, while in a new district program launched by the Anoka-Hennepin District 11 this fall, Headway has a mental health therapist at the school to work with students who need assistance.

Before the walk began round the fieldhouse, two adult participants spoke as past victims of domestic and sexual violence.

One, a former Coon Rapids High School teacher, said she suffered domestic abuse at home and coming to school each day to teach was a different world.

Yet, in the early 1990s, one of the students in her class was murdered by her stepfather, along with her mother, the woman said.

“All ages are affected and 25 percent of high school kids become victims of physical and sexual violence,” she said.

Awareness is one key to ending the “pervasiveness of domestic and sexual violence,” the former teacher said.

“Talk to someone you trust and go to a safe place,” she said.

The second speaker told walk-a-thon participants that she had been the victim of domestic and sexual violence as a child as well as in adulthood.

“I was abused by those who were supposed to guide me,” she said.

She advised those who are victims of domestic and sexual violence to “get the help you need to lead a healthy life.”

The woman said she was eventually able to do that and is doing “OK” now.

And she told the walk-a-thon participants, “The fact that you are here today shows that you care.”

For the first lap of the walk-a-thon the participants stayed together, while FCCLA organizing committee members Milless and Eichstadt read stories of domestic violence victims in Anoka County.

Sponsors of the walk-a-thon included Balloons Galore, Caribou Coffee, Chanticlear Pizza, Tastefully Simple – Joyce Rollins, Lifetime Fitness, McDonalds, Target, Coldstone Creamery, Taco Bell, Coon Rapids volleyball team, Buffalo Wild Wings, Praxair, Courtney Sherga, TJ Sherga, the Barta family, Bess Mueller, Scott Storrick and many anonymous donors.

The Coon Rapids girls’ volleyball team had a fundraiser for the walk-a-thon and the money it raised was matched by head coach Scott Arcand for a total of $153, according to Sherga.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]