MONTCLAIR, NJ - Hundreds gathered at Canterbury Park for a cause on Saturday, September 9. 

Families, friends and support organizations gathered together for the 7th annual S.O.F.I.A ( Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates) walk in remembrance of those who died and continue to walk in silence and a celebration of those who survived and are willing to share their stories in order to make a change not only in their life but to assist and help some one who finds themselves in an abusive relationship. 

Organizers say the goal of the walk were to raise awareness to support the emergency needs of domestic violence victims and their families, encourage others to support domestic violence awareness, prevention and healing and to secure funding for the general  operational costs of the S.O.F.I.A success center.

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Upon entering the park, one is greeted warmly as they checked in for the walk.

This year's sponsors and donors included Allstate Insurance Company, who made a generous donation of $11,000 to the organization, Applebees, Supreme Energy, Shoprite, MAAHF, Thomas Giblin, Montclair High School class reunion, Lestor Taylor Foundation, The Township of Montclair, CSBK Bank, Fellowship Baptist Church, MNDC, Eureka Lodge #52, DJ Hardcore and Investors Bank.

Alicia Robinson, Bank Manager of Investors Bank, discussed the bank's support for SOFIA, saying, "I met Cynthia Walker a few years ago and have supported  S.O.F.I.A for the last several years."

She added, "I live in the community and its important for me to support my community where we see things happening and what I/we can do to help."

"Domestic Violence and sexual abuse are not sexy things and many people don't want to support something that is taboo. As women and men, we must support and make an impact for change," Robinson continued.

Local politicians joining the walk including Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson, 4th Ward Councilor Dr. Renee Baskerville and East Orange Mayor Lestor Taylor.

"Its,important that we support... In bringing the community together to focus on an issue that occurs all to often.  Organization like S.O.F.I.A. provides a service that not only helps but educates and is making an important impact in town,"  said Jackson. 

Baskerville said, "It's of national importance to raise awareness."

Baskerville, who is a medical doctor by profession, said, "[There's] no way to give statistics as often the truth is not shared by those victimized. It could be a family member, child, or your neighbor. The township will continue to support S.O.F.I.A in its mission as Cynthia and the group continue to do a great job." 

Grand Marshall Lena Cohen, a victim of domestic violence herself, grew up in Camden, NJ. She now works as an educator, advocate and speaker. After giving an encouraging speech of survival, she ended with a message of empowerment and read a scripture from the Bible.

She then said, "FORGIVENESS!  It's not for them, its for you." 

Following her speech, a series of awards was presented by Board President Tamisa Covington to the many sponsors and donors in thanks for their participation and services provided throughout the year.

As it came time for the walk, participants were gathered on the field for warm up exercises that included leg stretches, jumping jacks and movements to stimulate the mind, body and soul. Uplifting music was provided by DJ Hardcore (Corey Anderson) of Montclair.

Participant Jihan McGainey of A Better Me, LLC, said, "It truly takes a village and I love our community. The walk is vey important to me because I walk for all the victims & survivors that can't or won't walk. I walk for a change... Love should not hurt." 

Towanda McEachern and family members walked in memory of her grandmother, Marie Smith, whose life was taken away at the age of 32 in May of 1964.

Shron Dean, a participant, stated, "A few years ago a family member in a toxic relationship, was murdered. I'm walking in her memory. This organization brings awareness so that persons should not be submitted to emotional, verbal and physical abuse. 

As the 7th annual walk came to a close and laps completed around the walking track, everyone was called towards the hill at  Canterbury Park and asked to join hands to form a connecting chain. Prayer was rendered to those whose lives were cut short due to domestic violence,  those suffering in silence and those who survived and are empowering others to break the cycle and the shame often related to Individuals and families affected by this national crisis of domestic violence.

 

On this day S.O..F.I.A remembered:

 

Aquilla Flood,

Shanae Howard

Monica Paul 

Ava Nova

Shazima Khan

Annette Torres

EIizabeth Mae Eaddy

 

As apart of S.O.F.I.A' s main mission  in educating youth and young adults, the focus is bringing awareness, prevention and healing by providing information and workshops addressing early signs of domestic abuse. In 2017,  the organization has provided workshops and classes that have reached  over 2000 teenagers and young adults and since its inception in 2010. SOFIA has provided information, classes and services to over 8000 persons throughout the Essex County area, as well.

Founder Cynthia Walker's closing thoughts on the day, "I'm filled with joy and happiness and I'm grateful for the amazing turnout and support of our sponsors, donors and participants for the 7th Annual walk. I'm pleased to see the community come together to show support for the victims and survivors of domestic abuse, that a change can be made and that S.O.F.I.A  is there to help.

 

To make a donation or find out more information about S.O.F.I.A.  go to 

www.supportsofia.org

.