The Family Services of North Alabama presents Taco Trot 7.3K virtual run, bringing together communities across vast space for a common goal, all while raising awareness.
Registration is $50, and it's open to individuals or teams until April 30 by visiting www.runsignup.com/tacotrot.
Family Services of North Alabama is a rape crisis center serving DeKalb and Marshall Counties, empowering, advocating, teaching and providing advocacy for victims of sexual assault.
Family Services of North Alabama Executive Director Sherrie Hiett, who oversees both Marshall and DeKalb Counties, said the run was initially scheduled for April of 2020 but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it did not take place.
“This is actually the first time that we’ve ever done a virtual race, but we understand by April, people still won’t feel comfortable getting out and being around a huge crowd,” she said.
Hiett said there are various components involved in the run. For example, the Taco Trot is a 7.3K, not a standard marker for most runs.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone in the United States is sexually abused every 73 seconds.
“We wanted to take that educational piece from RAINN to teach people this is happening a lot around the United States,” said Hiett. “I don’t know that a 7.3k has been done before but hopefully, people will learn just how often assaults happen.”
A 5K race is 3.2 miles and a 7.3K is 4.5 miles and the staff at the Family Services of North Alabama are asking people to “go the extra mile” literally.
The event will be April 1 through April 30. Individuals or teams have the option to run the 7.3K in one day or through the course of the whole month.
“People can choose to do it a little bit at a time by either walking it, running it outdoors or on a treadmill,” Hiett said. “They can even do it by hiking outside. However, people choose to do it.”
As a rape crisis center, Family Services of North Alabama offers various programs, including Sexual Assault Support Services, Internet Safety, Parenthood and Youth Suicide Prevention programs.
“Out of all those programs, the one that we have seen a decreased in funding due to COVID-19 is in the Sexual Assault Support Services Program,” said Hiett.
Proceeds from the virtual race will be used for the agency as a whole. However, she said it would be used to fill the funds' loss and help fund the SANE P services, secular assault examiner for pediatrics for children ages 13 and under.
Since 2016, the agency has provided rape kits and forensic exams for children ages 14 and up under the SANE-A services for adolescents and adults.
This past year, Hiett said the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs approved a grant for SANE P services. However, even though the agency was approved, the federal ADECA grant, has seen a cut in funding due to COVID-19.
“Our goal is 2,000 people to participate [in the virtual run]. If we get 2,000 people, that's $100,000, which will make up for the money that was cut from ADECA and that will meet our goal,” she said.
Currently, children 13 years of age and younger who are raped or sexually abused in Marshall or DeKalb Counties have to be transported to Huntsville or Birmingham to receive services.
“You can imagine from Valley Head or Ider that it's a long drive, and some people don’t have the gas money or transportations needed to go that far, so we lose victims and they don’t get the help they need,” said Hiett.
She said unfortunately, like many other places Marshall and DeKalb Counties, have many children who are victims of sexual abuse and assault. However, their agency is striving to close the gap by providing services closer to home.
“We are excited about that although we think it’s an unfortunate service we have to provide but we are happy to fill that void,” said Hiett. “If a child is raped or assaulted, they can get the services they need immediately, and the DeKalb County Children’s Advocacy Center provides excellent therapy for 18 and under.
She said the shorter drive makes a huge difference for many victims. There are many issues adolescents face that stem from childhood trauma.
“Kids who don’t get the help are traumatized, they don’t get the counseling, and then a lot of times they will turn to drugs and alcohol,” Hiett said. “If we can jump in there from the very beginning and help them, the number of issues in the future will decrease.”
Individuals, organizations, groups and churches are encouraged to sign-up and support the agency's effort to serve local communities and expand services.
Hiett said there is a team in Philadelphia participating in the Taco Trot, so the event is not limited to this state or region.
“Through our Parenthood Program, the agency serves Marshall, DeKalb, Saint Claire and Blunt counties. Through its Internet Safety Program, we serve Marshall, DeKalb, Saint Claire, Blunt, Jackson, and Cherokee counties,” she said. “The beauty of the virtual run is people who see this as a good cause from outside of those areas can also participate.”
Hiett said individuals who sign-up and refer five other people will receive $20 off.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention Month. Hiett invites everyone to run, walk or hike and help raise awareness.
For a full list of programs and resources offered through Family Services of North Alabama, visit www.familyservicesna.org and for regular updates and a link to register for Taco Trot 7.3K visit and follow them on Facebook @FamilyServicesofNorthAlabama.