EATON — The 9th annual Victim Witness 5K raised approximately $925, money which, according to Program Director Brenda Miller, will help the Victim Witness Program reach out to those in need and assist them with any obstacles their unique cases might present.
The race was held on Sunday, Sept. 24 and saw 37 people register, while many more swarmed the Preble County Courthouse lawn to watch and enjoy each other’s company. This is an increase from last year, as only 28 people registered, raising a total of $575 at the 2016 event, with platinum sponsors donating $100.
This special 5K is held annually as a fundraiser for the Victim Witness Program. While the race used to be held during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in the spring, the program decided to move the race to the fall in a bid for better weather.
According to Miller, last year had better weather, but they are just now getting the word spread that the race has moved to this new time.
After event expenses, 100 percent of all donations are used exclusively for the benefit of victims of crime in Preble County and their families.
“In the past, we have used these funds for hotel rooms when we have to isolate someone from the offender. We’ve been able to do that. We’ve done that in the past when necessary, especially in emergency situations,” Miller said. “This past year we had a grandmother who received custody of three of her grandchildren. All four were victims of domestic violence and she did not have beds for the kids. We were able to help her and bought beds and mattresses for them.
“Sometimes the funds will take care of training for us so we can better serve the victims. We don’t do that very often, because we don’t have a lot of time for trainings,” she continued. “One girl was going to have to testify and we wanted her to feel good about herself and help her. We were able to get her a new hairdo. Whatever the need would be, those funds help us pay for it. It is nice to have that money for things that might pop up.”
In addition to being a fundraising event, the Victim Witness 5K also hopes to bring people together to celebrate survivors, remember loved ones lost, and empower individuals and the community to fight for crime victims’ rights. Survivors are encouraged to participate in honor of a loved one or themselves and are invited to wear t-shirts, buttons, etc. to express whom they are walking or running for.
There were also t-shirts available for purchase.
For domestic violence survivor — and soon-to-be mother — Brittnie Campbell, the 5K was a way for her to support a program which had supported her when she most needed it.
“I was a victim of domestic violence in 2016 and I almost lost my life. I’m here to give back to the other people and give hope to people who may be going through the same thing,” she said.
“I dated a guy for a few months and then he moved down with me from somewhere else in Ohio. So I didn’t truly know everything about him,” Campbell shared.
“He was a completely different person when we were dating. When he moved in with me he started to abuse me,” she continued. “Two of the most severe injuries happened in December and January, which caused brain bleeds. I had to have two full craniotomy brain surgeries. They were 10 days apart. The doctors told my parents and myself that I was lucky to still be here.
“I’m here because God has a plan and his plan is for me to help other people. The Victim Witness Program literally and truthfully held my hand through this entire process. From the beginning of him being arrested, to getting a restraining order, to court and everything — they were with me every step of the way. I can never thank them enough for what they did for me.”
Campbell added, if she could reach out to someone currently being abused she would tell them to seek help.
She said, “Speak up and get help, before its too late. Thankfully for me I got help just in the nick of time. The surgeons told us that I couldn’t sustain another head injury without it killing me. Going through two craniotomies in 10 days could have killed me. Reach out and get help, even if they have to call a friend or a neighbor.
“I am local, if anyone wants to reach out and talk to me,” Campbell added. “I also give speeches and tell my story. I’m supportive with anyone who needs help — but speak out before it is too late.”
Miller intends the 5K to be as inclusive as possible, as it is really meant to get survivors together to help with the recovery process. That means that while there is a race component to the 5K — as many come out just for a local 5K — there is the option to just walk or watch the 5K.
In fact, the family of Jerry Mason does just that. For the past three years they have been attending the 5K in their commemorative shirts to represent the loved one they lost. While some of the family does walk the 5K — and depending on the year they might have a runner — some of them sit at the courthouse plaza and watch the 5K as it happens.
Mason was murdered on Friday, May 17, 2013, by 22-year-old Tyler Smith, who was the son of Mason’s girlfriend. Smith was sentenced to life in prison, but Mason’s family still had their brother, son, or friend taken away from them in a blink of an eye.
For Mason’s sister, Melanie Burke, the Victim Witness 5K is a way to remember her brother’s life.
“My brother was murdered in 2013 and we walk in his memory. This is our third year that we’ve done this. We like to honor his memory and feel that it is the right thing to do,” she said. “This is a wonderful program. When we were going to court and everything the program was there for us. As a family, we didn’t know what to expect as we had never been through anything like that — it was scary and we were worried [Smith] was going to get away with what he did, but the program was always there to answer any questions we had.
“The Victim Witness is a wonderful program and they held our hand through court, but even the candlelight service and hearing Brittnie [Campbell’s] story is amazing. It is very sad to see how much this program is needed.”
While many participated in the 5K to raise awareness or honored a lost loved one, some attended to run a 5K. The program uses company Speedy Feet to track the runner’s time. First place and overall male went to College-Corner resident Kevin Johnston. Second place and overall female went to College-Corner resident Kim Noble.
Following the race there was a cookout on the courthouse plaza so families could get to know each other and celebrate the life of those they’ve loved and lost or celebrate those who have survived.
At the end of the day, the Victim Witness 5K serves to build a sense of community in survivors and to raise awareness about the program to others that may have never been involved with it before.
“This is a way to get everyone together — not just the survivors, but the community as well — because this is open to the community to help show support,” Miller said. “We appreciate community members participating, not only because they are showing support, but because they are also becoming aware that we are here and what services we offer. That way if they become aware of someone who could use our help, they know we’re here.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH