ELLSWORTH, Maine — Hancock and Washington counties will be seeing purple this month as the Next Step Domestic Violence Project seeks to raise community awareness about domestic violence.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Next Step has begun its fourth annual Ties That Bind campaign encouraging businesses and individuals to show support for victims and survivors of domestic violence by wearing a small purple ribbon.
According to Kelly Brown, Next Step’s program manager, last year about 50 businesses participated in the campaign and this year, based on initial calls, she expects more than 100 businesses throughout the two counties to join the campaign with employees wearing the ribbons throughout the month.
Darlings Auto Mall in Ellsworth again is the sponsor for the campaign. The company has been joined already by a number of other businesses and institutions, Brown said. For example, she said, Maine Coast Memorial Hospital is participating this year and already has asked for 300 ribbons for hospital staffers who have expressed an interest.
The small purple ribbons, available for a suggested donation of $1 each, are a way that community members can become involved in the issue, Brown said.
“People want to participate, they want to be involved, they want to help, but they don’t always know how.
It’s especially hard for men,” she said. “This is the kind of fun activity where everyone can show concern and let victims and survivors know that [domestic violence] is not acceptable.”
That’s a very important message for victims and survivors who can feel isolated, as if no one cares and often that no one believes them, according to Laurie Fogelman, Next Step’s executive director.
“Imagine a victim or a survivor and every store they go into they see people wearing purple ribbons,” Fogelman said. “That gives them the message that the community does care. And it also gives the abuser a notice that the community does not tolerate that behavior.”
Domestic violence is increasing in the two counties, according to Fogelman. Between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010, Next Step staff worked with about 833 people. That’s an increase from the previous year when they assisted about 750.
Next Step provides a variety of services for victims and survivors of domestic violence, not the least of which is providing a safe place for those seeking a way out of an abusive relationship. The project has five transitional apartments, three in Hancock County and two in Washington County, and a confidential shelter.
They also offer services to the community, businesses and organizations in the form of workshops and training that can be tailored to specific needs. During October, Next Step also will offer hot line training for those interested in helping directly with victims and survivors of domestic violence.
The organization’s Ellsworth office — there are also centers in Machias and Calais — sits on 27 acres. This year, as part of the Ties That Bind Campaign, Next Step officials hope to create a quarter-mile-long “Peaceful Walking Path” on that property. They envision the path as a place for staff and clients, particularly those families living in the transitional housing on the site, to have a safe place to walk or to just get away.
“For our clients, it’s sometimes hard to feel safe,” Brown said. “We see this as a place where they can walk or take a picnic and just be a family for the day.”
Maine State Forester Jim Ecker has designed and laid out the path, and Next Step has set Oct. 23 as the official workday to start clearing and creating the path. The Ellsworth Rotary already has promised at least six workers for the day. Next Step is looking for other community organizations to volunteer time, money or supplies.
Anyone interested in participating in the purple ribbon campaign, helping with the Peaceful Walking Path workday or in joining the hot line training, can call Next Step at 667-0176.