Gavilan College Vets Raise Funds at "Walk A Mile" in Hollisterby Jan Janes on May 5, 2017
Gavilan College veterans showed up early in Hollister one Saturday morning, commandeering a classroom in the Briggs Building to change into dresses, wigs, full makeup and high heels. All in support of a good cause.
Members of Gavilan College Student Veterans Association took the red high heel symbol
to new levels, raising money for prevention of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Two local nonprofits, Community Solutions and Emmaus House, offer support, safety and counseling to people who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The vets raised nearly $3,000 to support their services.
Ray Lopez, president of the Student Veterans Association said club advisor Jillian Wilson suggested the event to the group. "We've seen lots of tough stuff defending our country," he said. "We want to defend and support women here at home."
The Hollister Walk a Mile has been held for 15 years, and many people in the community turned out to walk a mile down San Benito Street. Skaters from Faultline Derby Devilz served as crossing guards. Parents with strollers participated, firefighters turned out in uniform, and the Gavilan vets' friends and families joined them.
Walkers filled San Benito Street on a sunny Saturday morning.
On their return, they collected and proudly wore red high heel necklaces.
Community Solutions distributed information and cited national statistics: every nine seconds there is an act of domestic violence, and every two minutes there is a sexual assault. Creating safe places, encouraging community dialogue and talking about domestic violence raises awareness.
At the start of the walk, students placed a purple flag every nine seconds and a
turquoise flag every two minutes. As the last walker returned, more than 400
markers had been placed in the grass at Fourth and San Benito Streets.
Why not just wear red high heels? Starting last year, when the vets participated in Walk a Mile in Santa Cruz, the veterans aimed to raise thousands of dollars for the charities. "You have this image of vets all tattooed and bearded," said Connor Quinn, who walked both years. "We wanted to expose our feminine side, make it light, break out of our stereotypes."
The vets enlisted local business owner Raul Escareno and VFW Post 9242 Commander Bernie Ramirez to join them. Gavilan Cosmetology graduates Michele Torrano and Natalie Ramirez, along with their mothers, spent Saturday morning painting the vets' fingernails, applying makeup and styling their wigs. For Natalie and her mom, giving back was personal. In 2008, a relationship turned abusive and they received help from Emmaus House.
Jillian Wilson (left) Veterans Club advisor, looks on as Hollister Mayor Ignacio
Velazquez joins Gavilan College Superintendent/President Dr. Kathleen
Rose and Student Life Coordinator Ryan Shook on the return leg of Walk a Mile.
After the walk, county and city officials delivered proclamations and spoke about local efforts to prevent domestic violence. A victim of sexual abuse spoke to the group about her experiences, which started when she was 12, being scared and not making the best decisions for herself. Shelter and counseling from Emmaus House helped her get out. "When someone says 'I'm done' and needs a place to go," said Patrice Kuerschner, "we offer them a safe place."
Community Solutions offers a 24-hour crisis line, prevention services and works with students at San Benito High School and with migrant community populations."Community support is vital," said Erica Elliot, "to be a part of prevention, and talk to kids about how to be safe."
Still smiling as they finish the mile long walk, Gavilan vets said their feet
were 'Army' tough with calluses, but their ankles and knees felt the pain.
Lopez is already planning for 2018 and ways to raise more money. "We want the stigma to go away about not talking about violence," he said, "and, as vets, to have an impact in our community."