This April men of all ages will put on their red high heels and walk a mile in women's shoes to spread awareness of sexual violence and gender relations while raising money for the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County.
This will mark the nonprofit's fourth year participating in the event, said Sarah Hund-Brown, community educator at RCIS.
Hund-Brown said RCIS brought the idea to Carroll County as a way to awareness and much needed money as the private nonprofit struggled in a tough economy.
But at the heart of the fundraiser lies one fundamental purpose: to give the community a safe and comfortable venue to discuss the issue of sexual violence.
"We wanted to get awareness out in the community that the issue of sexual violence isn't just one that affects women," she said. "We try to put a fun spin on the event because this tends to be a topic that's really difficult for most people to talk about - it's just uncomfortable and taboo in our society to talk about it."
The walk stands out from others because the men participating are strongly encouraged to actually wear women's shoes - high heels if they're brave enough, or flats if they want to be more comfortable.
Men can participate as individuals or in groups, she said.
Director of Westminster Recreation and Parks Ron Schroers, who has walked in the event in the past, said at first he tried to walk in heels to show his solidarity with women, but he never made it out of the shoe store.
"When I was in Payless Shoes at the mall I tried a pair on and walked down isle and back," Schroers said. "I looked at the young lady who was helping me and said 'thanks, I'd like to try a pair of flats please.'"
Jim Kunz, a social work professor at McDaniel College, has organized a team of faculty from the college to participate in the walk each year since the event began in Carroll County.
The first year he and his team of faculty won the coveted Black Stiletto Trophy, for raising $1,395, more money than any other team. In the second year a team from Buffalo Wild Wings won the trophy with $886, and last year the Manchester Valley High School boys lacrosse team won the Black Stiletto Trophy with a total of $3,000, more than any team has fundraised before.
Kunz said his team is hoping to raise even more money this year than they have in the past.
"We wish [Buffalo Wild Wings and the Manchester Valley lacrosse team] well, but we intend to reclaim the Black Stiletto Trophy this year," he said.
He said this time around he will be walking in sensible flats, after he had a painful experience walking in heels at the 2009 event.
Several other groups from McDaniel have participated in the walk or plan to participate, he said, including the student group Musical Outreach, who plans to play musical instruments as they walk.
Hund-Brown said this year she is hoping to have 200 people signed up for the event, nearly twice the amount of participants as last year. So far there are three teams and 12 individuals registered, she said.
"With a community as big as Carroll County, we know that there are a lot more people out there who want to participate and just aren't hearing about it," she said.
In 2011 the fundraiser raised approximately $15,000, Hund-Brown said.
She said RCIS of Carroll County has a goal to raise $30,000 this year, because the organization has lost tens of thousands of dollars in funding cuts.
RCIS is one of very few remaining organizations to provide free counseling and support services to victims of sexual violence and their families, Hund-Brown said. They also offer prevention education programs and professional training in order to eliminate sexual violence through education and advocacy, she said, but the organization needs to raise money in order to continue supporting the community.
Kunz said he believes RCIS is an important organization to support, and sexual violence is an issue that more people, especially men, need be aware of.
"They need our help and it is particularly important for men to be involved," he said. "Because the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence are women, it is seen as a women's issue. Men need to take ownership of the issue and help contribute to solutions. Walk a Mile is an effective - and fun - way to do this."
The walk will begin at Dutterer Park and end at Westminster City Park. Women and children are encouraged to walk alongside the men, or cheer them on from the sidelines and finish line.
Men who register before March 2 and pay a $75 registration fee will receive a signature pair of red high heels to walk in, Hund-Brown said.
Men who already have shoes, who wish to purchase their own, or who register after March 2 pay a registration fee of $25.
To register visit http://www.walkamilecc.org.