VUHS seniors walk 13 miles for WomenSafe

VERGENNES UNION HIGH School seniors, shown along with a volunteer on Green Street

We reached $7,300 … and that just felt really great for everyone. Because it’s something that’s not about us. It’s about the organization and the community.
— Senior Class President Emily Rooney

VERGENNES — The annual walk for charity made by Vergennes Union High School seniors this past Wednesday netted $7,400 — and counting — toward the Class of 2020’s nonprofit of choice, WomenSafe.
About 50 of the 73 members of the class walked on Wednesday morning from the school to the Middlebury town green (nearly 13 miles via Green Street and Morgan Horse Farm Road), accompanied by faculty advisers and three WomenSafe representatives.
There they celebrated exceeding the class goal of raising $100 per senior for WomenSafe’s new transitional housing project. The class was still collecting pledges as the week came to a close. The deadline is this Monday, and the final fundraising total can grow even further.
Class of 2020 President Emily Rooney said the VUHS seniors were happy a final push sent the class past its target.
“A lot of us are really, really excited, and kind of proud a little bit, too, because most of us knew how difficult it was going to be. Because even yesterday we were at $5,000, so we were like, maybe we can get there. And then this morning we reached $7,300,” Rooney said. “And that just felt really great for everyone. Because it’s something that’s not about us in this. It’s about the organization and the community. It made it so much more meaningful.”
The VUHS seniors have been walking and fundraising for charity as a group since 2008, when they donated to Porter Hospital in honor of a classmate’s mother who succumbed to breast cancer.
The 2018 walk raised $4,000 for the Love Your Brain foundation in honor of a Class of 2019 member. Past walks have raised between $3,000 and $10,000 (a bigger class four years ago) for causes that have included Burlington’s Vermont Children’s Hospital; youth suicide prevention; Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center; local cancer patients; and a VUHS student who was injured in a fall from a horse.
The Class of 2020 chose WomenSafe — a nonprofit that aids people who experience sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking — in a vote between three options researched by class officers. The other nonprofits on the ballot also make a local impact, Migrant Justice and Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, known as HOPE. 
Rooney said all were good choices.
“They were all local organizations, because we really wanted the money we raised to go to something that everyone in our community knew about, and we really wanted to see the change we could make,” she said, adding of the winning option, “We put that one in there because we knew that WomenSafe does so much for our community.”
WomenSafe Executive Director Kerri Duquette-Hoffman said the organization was honored to be chosen.
“I think it’s important in a number of ways, but one of the biggest ones is we want people to know about our services and access our services and talk about consent and talk about healthy relationships,” Duquette-Hoffman said. “Just the idea of having the fundraiser and putting our name out there already was a huge gift to us.”
Duquette-Hoffman said WomenSafe is nearing its fundraising goal for the transitional housing, and the seniors’ gift will go a long way toward helping the agency reach the finish line. 
“We’re almost done with that project. We actually expect to have our first tenants in the beginning of the winter. We’re really excited,” she said. “And actually we’re at a place where we’re closing the project (fundraising), so it comes at a perfect time. It’s a huge gift.”
That transitional housing can play a big role in making people’s lives better by providing a safe option for those who badly need it, Duquette-Hoffman said.
“It will help to house people who have experienced domestic or sexual violence,” Duquette-Hoffman said. “It’s something that hasn’t existed in this way in the past. We’ve had some transitional housing options, but something owned by the community that is going to be very low-barrier is going to be huge.”
The class did have a joint GoFundMe webpage and other social media efforts that raised about $2,000, according to Rooney and faculty advisor Beth Adreon. But mostly, they said, individual students worked hard to get pledges and collect checks and cash.
“When push comes to shove, I think they really come together to reach their goals,” Adreon said. “And that’s what the walk-a-thon is really about for the students. It’s about building that community and supporting our community. And I think this class really came together to do that.”
Duquette-Hoffman summed up her feelings about the seniors and their efforts.
“It is giving people the gift of safety,” Duquette-Hoffman said. “It’s amazing. They’re awesome.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]

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