HUNTINGDON - The tragedy of a young life lost has inspired positive change in a local community.
Nicole Houck, prevention education coordinator at Huntingdon House, said the Huntingdon House Walk to End Violence is set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Detwiler Field in Huntingdon. The walk-a-thon is being held in memory of Michael Ayers, a 2-year-old boy who was killed in late March after a dispute during a routine custody exchange.
Houck said she originally presented the idea for a walk-a-thon to the fundraising committee at Huntingdon House, an agency that provides help to victims of domestic abuse. When she pitched the idea, someone recommended that she contact Hollie Ayers, Michael's mother, about holding the event in memory of the boy, who Ayers described as smart, funny, kind and loved to dance. Houck said it was fate that brought the women together.
"(Houck) called me one day and said, 'We're doing our first Walk to End Violence. We thought it would be really nice to do it Michael's memory,'" Ayers recalled.
The night before she received the call, Ayers said she had been to a Walk to End Violence in Harrisburg and was thinking it would be nice to hold one sometime in Michael's memory.
"It's actually bittersweet," she said. "I am honored that it's being held in his memory ... also very sad it has to happen in the first place."
Houck said the walk-a-thon will raise money through community donations and sponsorships. As participants walk, they will keep track of how many laps are walked and announce the grand total number of miles at the end. Houck said sponsors can donate per lap or with a flat donation to participants or through the online platform at sites.google.com/site/hhwalktoendviolence.
"We're hoping to raise $5,000 this year. If we surpass that, (we will) up the goal for next year," Houck said.
She said a portion of the funds will go to Huntingdon House, a program that provides counseling, shelter services, a 24/7 hotline, legal advocacy, accompaniment services, community outreach and prevention education for victims of domestic violence.
The rest of the proceeds will be saved and put toward a child access center, which will provide a safe environment for custody exchange services. Houck said there will be no contact between parents during exchanges held at the center. Children will arrive with their parent and will be escorted to another room by a supervisor, she said, where the other parent will be waiting.
The Walk to End Violence is a way to "take a tragic situation and figure out what we can do to prevent the situation from happening again," Houck said.
The event will include vendors, children's games, face painting, a concession stand and a community barbecue. Most importantly, it will raise awareness and community cooperation in support of preventing domestic violence, Ayers said.
"Domestic violence is across the board. It doesn't discriminate," she said. "Hopefully, eventually, we can end it."
Ayers said building a child access center with free services is a "wonderful" idea, especially for families who cannot pay for supervised visits.
"No other child should ever have to lose their life," she said. "Adults are supposed to protect them."
Houck said vendors are still needed for the event. Registration fee is $30. Tickets for the barbecue, scheduled to be held at 4 p.m., are available for $7 in advance or $9 at the event. Individuals and teams interested in walking can register until the day of the event, either online at sites.google.com/site/hhwalktoendviolence or by calling Huntingdon House at (814) 643-2801.
The schedule of events includes:
9-10 a.m. - Registration
10-11 a.m. - Opening remarks and keynote speaker
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Walk to End Violence, activities and vendors
3-4 p.m. - Closing remarks and prize giveaways
4 p.m. - Community barbecue and musical entertainment provided by Nick Miller and Gabe Green