Show your support on #GivingTuesday through #IFeelFearlessWhen

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Did you know that Tuesday, November 27th is #GivingTuesday? Following the hectic shopping days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday is a global movement centered on the community coming together to support important causes. In anticipation of this day, the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation wants to remind you of our mission and ask for your support.

We’re just getting started

The Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation envisions a world where women can live boldly and fearlessly. We strive to achieve this goal by partnering with organizations that promote female safety and gender equality. In 2018, we funded safety awareness, self-defense, and media literacy programs at the Worcester branch of Girls Inc., a national nonprofit that empowers girls to be strong, smart, and bold; we held Strike for Vanessa, a mega self-defense workshop for 500 women; and we started a partnership with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office to bring safety awareness workshops to our supporters’ communities. Thousands of you showed your support by coming to #Run4Vanessa at our 2nd annual 5K, participating in one of our charity teams, or attending one of our many fundraisers.

In 2019, we hope to achieve even more.

Support us this #GivingTuesday

While there is still a lot of work to do to achieve our vision, it is empowering to think of those times when we feel fearless. That is why this #GivingTuesday, we want you to share on your favorite social media sites the times when you feel fearless.

#IFeelFearlessWhen

On November 27th, share a picture of your choice on Facebook and Instagram, caption it with the hashtag #IFeelFearlessWhen, and complete it with whatever (or whoever!) makes you feel fearless. #IFeelFearlessWhen is meant to celebrate female empowerment by highlighting the many ways we can help ourselves and other women feel bold and fearless.

Out of those who post on November 27th using the hashtag #IFeelFearlessWhen, we will randomly select one person to receive an Athena device, a discreet wearable that allows you to share your location and check in with chosen loved ones with the click of a button.

To help you spark some ideas, maybe you feel fearless when…

  • You accomplish a difficult goal or push yourself outside of your comfort zone (“I got into business school!”)

  • Learn or try something new (“I went skydiving for the first time.”)

  • You are with (or think about) a certain friend, family member, or role model (“I’m with my best friend Julia.”)

  • Or ANYTHING else that empowers you to feel fearless (“Practicing yoga makes me feel mentally and physically strong.”)

You can copy and paste one of these captions to help get you started:

“@vtmfoundation envisions a world where women can live boldly and fearlessly. On #GivingTuesday #IFeelFearlessWhen [insert yours here]”

“#IFeelFearlessWhen [your caption here]. Learn more about the @vtmfoundation #GivingTuesday”

Other ways to support us this #GivingTuesday

Other ways you can contribute on #GivingTuesday (and any day)

  • Amazon Smile. Shop on Amazon the same way you always would, but Amazon donates some of your purchase to a charity of your choice. Go to amazonsmile.com and select “Vanessa T Marcotte Foundation” as your charity of choice.

  • Donate.

  • Follow us on social media to keep up-to-date on our progress and community events.

Important story from Good Morning America with valuable self defense tips.

'Unfortunate' and scary reality for female runners

This story was posted on September 20, 2018 on the ABC News website. For the full article/video please visit ABC News.

The viral hashtags #MilesforMollie and #dcrunners4wendy are reflecting an all-too-scary reality for women today.

Runners in the Washington, D.C., area started #dcrunners4wendy after Wendy Martinez, 35 and newly-engaged, was stabbed to death Tuesday while jogging around 8 p.m. in a busy, well-lit area of the nation’s capital.

The killings of two young women while doing something as innocent as running outdoors have sparked fear and outrage.

"It's the unfortunate reality of being a woman," said Alex Morris, a 24-year-old runner in Washington, D.C., and member of the Georgetown Running Club, a competitive running club. "You always have to think extra carefully and it's not even just running."

The deaths of Tibbetts and Martinez came on the heels of two killings last year that also rocked women.

Karina Vetrano, 30, was killed while on an evening jog in Queens, New York, in August 2016.

Five days later, Vanessa Marcotte, a 27-year-old Google employee who lived in New York City, was killed after she left her mother’s home in Princeton, Massachusetts, for a run in broad daylight, officials said.

t's not just women runners who are in danger. Just this week, a 22-year-old collegiate golf player was killed while she was golfing alone on a course in Ames, Iowa.

A conversation that men don't have

And lost among those high-profile, tragic killings are the countless instances the mass public rarely hears about of women who escape attacks, who are cat-called, who are scared, who have to run with pepper spray or alter their routes or skip an activity altogether just because they are trying to exist in this world as a woman on her own.

"We have a big group chat and we’re always talking about how people can be safe and that we should be meeting up more often to go on runs because strength in numbers just makes everyone feel safer," Morris said of her running club. "It's just a topic of conversation that the men’s team doesn’t have to talk about."

survey last year by Runner's World found more than half of women who run said they are concerned that they could be physically assaulted or receive unwanted physical contact during a run.

In addition to the fear they face, women also face pressure from society to do something ("Don't wear headphones!" "Change your route!" "Never run at night!"), as though the behaviors of often-male perpetrators are their fault.

"I’ve felt frustrated when the media coverage after these incidents focuses on what women should be doing differently with the subtext that they did something wrong, or that they shouldn’t have been running at that time," said Kerry Allen, a 30-year-old elite marathoner and Georgetown Running Club member. "At the end of the day, we have to get to a place that every woman feels safe while moving about the city, whether it’s walking, running, biking, anything."

Allen, who also works full-time on Capitol Hill, said she often has to run early in the morning or late at night, a reality of many women who have to squeeze in workouts wherever and whenever they can.

"I think the unfortunate answer is you can’t always prevent attacks," she said. "I love running. I’m going to keep doing that."

A self-defense expert's advice for women

It is impossible to prevent every attack, experts say, and women should not feel the pressure to do so.

What women can do is empower themselves so they feel stronger and more confident out in the world, says Jennifer Cassetta, a self-defense expert and creator of the Stilettos and Self Defense DVDs.

"I’m personally not going to wait around for men to stop raping," Cassetta told "Good Morning America." "That’s not going to happen in our lifetime so how can we get ahead of that and be empowered to do what we want to do and live our lives."

"It’s about knowing that you have that power," she said.

Cassetta stays away from the stereotypical advice for women like not running alone and not wearing headphones, she adds.

"A man would say that," she said.

Instead, she gives women self-defense advice that doesn't "punish" them.

"For me, teaching is about giving as many choices as possible in these horrible situations," said Cassetta, who notes that even taking one self-defense class can make a huge difference. "There are so many examples of women fighting back and getting away. It does work. Not all the time, but it can."

Cassetta's top 3 empowering tips for women

1. Know the weapons you have on your body and how to use them

Run or walk powerfully with your shoulders back and head up, making eye contact with every person in your path, Cassetta recommends.

If you are attacked, dropping down to a squat or a lunge will drop your center of gravity and make you harder to the throw to the ground, according to Cassetta.

To fight back, Cassetta says to "acquire and fire."

"The eyes, throat and groin are most effective targets because they are all soft targets where you can do the most amount of damage with the least amount of effort," she said. "Scratch or gouge the eyes, give a punch to the throat to disrupt breathing and give a punch or a knee or an elbow to the groin."

2. Be aware of your surroundings

Women should be "alert but calm" when they're out and about, scanning for red flags and not getting too deep into thought, Cassetta says.

"When we’re being alert, our intuition is our inner GPS, it gives us signals and sends us messages," she said. "If we’re too caught up in our to-do list or what we’re stressed about, we can’t hear it."

When it comes to hearing, Cassetta also says don't forgo headphones, but do have the volume low enough so that you can hear the sounds around you.

Also, let other people know of your surroundings too. Designate a friend or family member as your "safety buddy," the person you text to let know when and where you are running and when you will return.

3. Arm yourself

The types of "non-lethal weapons" Cassetta recommends women arm themselves with include pepper spray, a personal alarm, and a sharp object worn as a piece of jewelry, what she calls "weapon jewelry."

"They make you that much more aware because you’re holding onto it and aware of it," she said. "But you need to make sure you know how to use them. If you have pepper spray, make sure you know how to use it and have it accessible."

Resilience and Hope: Interview with Ana Alcaron of AnaGoesFit

“I have never expected so much support, love, and kindness from so many women and men. What happened to me, it shouldn’t happen ever, to men or women. And that’s why I shared it, because we have a voice and a choice.”

 

Before Vanessa died, I lived in a bubble. I knew that assault and gender-based violence were real issues in our society, however, the thought that I, or anyone I loved, could ever be a victim, rarely crossed my mind.

Fast forward to today, a year and a half after Vanessa’s death, and sometimes I am still in utter disbelief that this actually happened to my best friend. As much as I hope that I will wake up and it will all just be a horrific nightmare, I know that’s not reality. Fueled by the desire to prevent future senseless acts, I helped establish the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation. The foundation envisions a world where women live free from objectification and harassment. However, there is a lot that needs to be done before we live in this kind of world. The first, and most critical step, is raising awareness.

A few months after Vanessa died, I came across this post by AnaGoesFit, a Boston-based fitness blogger. I am typically drawn to her “fitspo” posts about how to live a healthy lifestyle and instagram feed of delicious healthy meals with perfect lighting. This post, however, was different. Ana shared that she started her day the same as usual. She left her apartment before the sun came up to teach her fitness class, and the next thing she remembered was waking up in the hospital. She had been assaulted.

  The post Ana shared on her Instagram account to spread awareness about her assault.

The post Ana shared on her Instagram account to spread awareness about her assault.

Like a lot of people, I was incredibly moved by Ana’s post. I reached out to her to thank her for spreading awareness, share Vanessa’s story, and ask her if she would be willing to help with the foundation in the future. She responded right away that she would be happy to help in any way that she could. I recently had the chance to interview her. Here’s what she had to say about her experience and why she’s compelled to raise awareness and advocate for our cause.

It can happen to anyone.

When talking to Ana, I learned that before her assault she was just like I had been before Vanessa died. She never thought this could happen to her. She said: “I always thought Boston was safe, but this experience taught me that this can happen anywhere.” Ana decided to share her story on social media to help raise awareness. When I asked her why she chose to share her story, she said:  “I wanted to show people that it happens to anyone. I feel like everyone thinks this could never happen to them. I wanted to share so people are mindful, more aware that it can happen. It doesn’t matter if you are privileged, have a great lifestyle, it can still happen to you.”

Change starts with awareness.

Given her following on social media, Ana expected her post to have a big reaction. What surprised her was how big of a reaction she received. She said: “People were very kind and willing to share their stories. It opened my eyes to how often this happens. The reaction was amazing. It brought a lot of people together, especially in the Boston fitness community, where there are a lot of women who often work very early, or late hours, and are commuting alone.” Ana was hesitant to share her story because it came at an emotional time - it was right before the holidays and her brother had passed away a month before. She was moved by the reaction and the outpouring of support she received, and was happy to bring attention to an issue that needs to be discussed.

  Boston fitness community coming together to show their support a few days after Ana's assault

Boston fitness community coming together to show their support a few days after Ana's assault

Women deserve more.

What resonated with me most about Ana’s post was her belief that women deserve more. She mentions that “women shouldn’t need to feel scared to walk alone in the dark, be constantly aware of her surroundings, carry pepper spray, or wear protective rings.” Although I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more, I realize we don’t live in this world yet. I’ve learned that now more than ever, as we continue to work toward a world where we truly are free to live boldly and fearlessly, it’s important that women are aware of their surroundings.

Listening to Ana’s response about how her behavior has changed since her attack was another reminder of why our foundation is working so hard to carry out our mission. She admitted that “sadly yes” she has changed her behavior since her assault. She recounted, “I used to be very naive. I thought I was living in a very safe community and that I didn’t need to worry about this stuff. My morning commute was my me time, I always wore headphones and zoned out.” In addition to “just opening her eyes a little bit more, and being more aware of her surroundings,” Ana has also changed her daily routine. She told me: “Now I try and time my workouts around when the sun is out, or when I know more people will be out and about. I try and avoid walking late at night by myself.”

As Ana talked about how her attack has forced her to change her behaviors, I started to tear up a little. It was all too familiar. I thought about Vanessa and how she cherished her walks in Princeton. Taking walks outside was her time to disconnect before heading back to the hustle and bustle of New York City. I thought about how my morning walk to the “T” was also my favorite part of the day - a time to truly unplug, zone out, and reflect. Now, like Ana, I am always more aware of my surroundings. I always stay alert, keep one headphone out of my ear, and never let my guard down.

We can’t just wait for a change.

Although Ana has felt the need to change her routines, she believes that “women shouldn’t be scared to go out alone.” She dreams of a world where she, and all women, are able to “go out alone without being scared, regardless of the time or the neighborhood.”  All of these reasons have compelled Ana to be an advocate for change. She told me, “I want to raise awareness. It’s not okay what happens to women. We need to make a change and, we are the ones who are going to make the change. We can’t wait for someone else. If we don’t do anything, it’s not going to happen.”

It’s not just a women’s issue.

When asked what needs to change in our society in order to live in a world where women truly can live boldly and fearlessly, Ana shared a lot of ideas. She pointed out that both men and women have a responsibility to change their behavior to move toward this change and that “it starts with gender equality.” The most actionable advice for women is “to start small. Start in your friend groups. Start empowering women. Stop bashing other women. It’s a snowball effect. Let’s change that way we talk about each other,” and she is right.

She called for men to “start putting it in perspective.” When men hear other men talking badly about women (even if it’s in a joking manner or just goofing off at a bar), they should ask themselves: “Would you want someone to talk to your wife, mother, sister, girlfriend, or daughter like that?” As women, Ana believes we can help men understand where we are coming from by “helping them visualize themselves in our place.” She also noted that the gender stereotypes women face are a large contributing factor to the objectification of women in society. To address this, according to Ana, we need “men to acknowledge that women are equal, women are strong, women can do anything.”

As I reflect on my conversation with Ana, I feel a mix of emotions. I feel so connected to what she said, and at the same time, overwhelmed, knowing that change won't be easy. I feel grateful for her support, and inspired by her resilience. But mostly, I feel compelled to keep spreading awareness and fighting for change. Ana's words sum it up perfectly: "I have never expected so much support, love, and kindness from so many women and men. What happened to me, it shouldn't happen ever, to men or women. And that's why I shared it, because we have a voice and a choice."

Learn more about Ana at STRIKE for Vanessa on January 21st, where she will be delivering opening remarks. You can learn more about Ana on her blog or by following her on Instagram @anagoesfit.



 

 

5 Days of Giving

What is Giving Tuesday?

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Since 2012, #GivingTuesday has been celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, falling between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Supporting a charity that is close to your heart is a great way to kick off the giving season!

What is the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation 5 Days of Giving?

For the five days (November 27-December 1), we will give you the chance to learn a little bit more about how the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation is making a difference while encouraging you to donate to this important cause. We’ll also do some giving of our own by giving out daily VTMF prizes to our supporters who help us by spreading the word and donating to our cause!

How can you get involved?

Be on the lookout for our daily posts which will share more personal stories of the impact we are making! Each post will also include more detail for the daily prize. If you feel inspired, please make a donation

So, how are we making a difference?

Spreading Safety Awareness

 ROAR for Good at Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation 5K Run / Walk, June 2017

ROAR for Good at Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation 5K Run / Walk, June 2017

Last June, we held our inaugural fundraiser, the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation 5K Run / Walk at Wachusett Mountain. The event was a major success! Over 1,000 people came together to support the foundation and honor Vanessa on what would have been her 28th birthday.

This event was also special for us because we kicked off our partnership with Roar for Good, an organization whose mission is to make the world a safer place. Roar for Good is the creator of the Athena device, a wearable safety button that can sound an alarm or alert preset contacts of your location if you are in danger. Learn more about Roar for Good and Athena here.

Since losing Vanessa, we’ve been on a mission to find anything that can prevent future senseless tragedies. We really believe that Athena can make a difference and we were so excited to introduce it to the 1,000 people at our 5K!

 

Encouraging Bold and Fearless Runners

 The VTM Foundation Falmouth Road Race Team, August 2017

The VTM Foundation Falmouth Road Race Team, August 2017

As a foundation, it’s important to us that running events are embedded in our fundraising strategy. Not only did Vanessa love running (she ran the Falmouth Road Race many times and aspired to run the Boston Marathon one day), the act of running itself is empowering. Through our work, we hope that one day women will not fear running alone. Until that day, we want to equip women with the education around safety awareness so they can run fearlessly. We also want to continue honoring Vanessa’s legacy through participating in the races she loved and dreamed of running, but never could.


In 2017, we had a team of 20 men and women cross the Falmouth finish line carrying Vanessa with them the whole way. In 2018, we will have two bold and fearless runners cross the 122nd Boston Marathon in Vanessa’s honor! Read more about the marathon runners’ stories here.

 

Empowering Women Through Self-defense

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On January 21st, hundreds of women will come together at Boston University, Vanessa’s alma mater, to participate in our inaugural self-defense and empowerment workshop, STRIKE for Vanessa. Celebrity trainer Avital Zeisler will lead the event, which will feature the Soteria Method, a unique blend of empowerment, visualization, and self-defense tactics. After Vanessa’s death, one of her best friends, Leah Abrahams, discovered Avital’s method. We were particularly drawn to Avital’s technique because, as Leah says in her blog post, “The ‘Why’ Behind STRIKE for Vanessa,” Avital’s method “ends with a visualization to cement the learnings, where women are challenged to picture a potential attack and formulate a hypothetical reaction. This practice of meditative visualizing can prevent the "freeze" that so many women experience after being attacked and help them develop an authentic survival mindset or the street that can overpower their own personal limitations.” We believe that Avital and the Soteria Method can help women live their lives without fear.

We look forward to the impact we can make in empowering women through the STRIKE event and our partnership with Avital. We hope you’ll join us on January 21st!

 

Redefining Gender Stereotypes

  The Fearless Girl statue  in NYC wearing a VTM Foundation hat, July 2017

The Fearless Girl statue in NYC wearing a VTM Foundation hat, July 2017

We are on a mission to reduce the objectification of women prevalent in our society, which we believe will help reduce violence and harassment against women. Children are exposed to gender stereotypes as early as infancy and grow up surrounded by our society's harmful gender biases throughout adolescence and adulthood. Our focus to redefine gender stereotypes and eliminate toxic masculinity addresses these issues directly. The most tangible way we can make an impact is by investing in youth programs that teach boys and girls these significant issues and help them advocate for gender equality. We’re proud to partner with Tutoring Plus and Girls Inc., both experts in this space.

Proceeds we raised from our early fundraising efforts directly supported the two gender programs at Tutoring Plus: Girls’ Media (for middle school girls) and Real Talk (for middle school boys). These programs focus on breaking down stereotypes and toxic masculinity, and also promote empowerment. Vanessa was an avid volunteer at Tutoring Plus during her time in Boston, so this organization holds a special place in our hearts.

In 2018, we are excited to begin a partnership with Girls Inc, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold.” Our partnership will focus on two of their after school programs, Project BOLD and Media Literacy. The programs are designed for girls between ages 9-14. Project BOLD focuses on violence prevention, conflict resolution skills, and self-defense. Media literacy teaches young girls the tools they need to critically examine the harmful gender stereotypes the media portrays. By learning to analyze the media's messages, girls are equipped to challenge and redefine gender biases prevalent in our society. With these critical safety awareness and media literacy skills, we believe girls will be able to live boldly and fearlessly.   

 

Changing our Culture of Objectification

 Vanessa and cousin Caroline at Falmouth Road Race, August 2014

Vanessa and cousin Caroline at Falmouth Road Race, August 2014

“The first time I remember being catcalled was when I was with Vanessa, walking down a street when we were in our early teenage years. To think that we were barely high schoolers and already had an uncomfortable experience around men is pretty unsettling. As adults, we often had conversations about gender inequality, whether it was talking about moments at work when we experienced sexism or sharing a story about feeling unsafe walking home at night in NYC. Vanessa would be so proud and impressed with our hard work during the most difficult year of our lives. I know she would also feel so honored that thousands of people have joined our fight for a world where women live boldly and fearlessly.” - Co-founder Caroline Tocci

We’re proud of all we’ve done since our establishment, but we know we still have a lot to do in order to change our culture of objectification. Please take a minute to hear more about our future plans and vision for the foundation in our blog post. Thank you for supporting our cause- we’re endlessly grateful!

The 'why' behind STRIKE for Vanessa

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Losing Vanessa was the hardest thing I've ever experienced. She was my college roommate and one of my closest confidants, and I walked around for weeks and months following her death battling a mix of disbelief, anger, and despair. While dealing with the shock and pain of her attack, I suddenly became terrified to go anywhere alone--daily occurrences like a short run around my neighborhood or an uber ride suddenly felt cripplingly hard. But I also developed a subconscious fear, one that crept below the surface but was debilitating nonetheless: The world had suddenly become a terrifying place.. As someone who had previously looked at the world through rose colored glasses, this shift felt debilitating.

To empower myself, I tried searching for self-defense experts that taught practical techniques. While there are countless resources available, I couldn't help but feel like there was something missing from the teachings that I stumbled upon. My biggest qualm: I could learn all the moves and mantras available, but I had an innate fear that if I ever came face to face with an attacker, I would freeze up. How would any mat tutorial protect me if I was paralyzed?

My hope and dream is that through this partnership with the VTM Foundation and Avital Zeisler, we can spread a message of empowerment and self preservation to women everywhere, while keeping Vanessa’s spirit alive. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Several months later, I started talking with a friend at a BBQ in San Francisco. We hadn't connected in a while, and she asked me if I was familiar Avtial Zeisler, the founder of the Soteria Method -- a unique practice of self-defense, fitness and empowerment for women. As soon I got home, I watched Avital's Ted X Talk. "Does fear of violence, fear of being victimized, or fear of anything for that matter prevent you from living your best life?" Avital asks in her opening. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Avital describe her own attack, and the method that she has created as a direct result of it. Her story not only resonated with me profoundly, but I was moved by her practical approach to self defense that went so much deeper than the mat. I knew that I had to do everything in my power to connect with Avital and hear more about her journey.

After reaching out via email,  I secured a phone call with Avital, and our connection was instant. Not only had she heard Vanessa's story, but she had commented to Good Morning America in the wake of Vanessa's attack, providing some practical safety tips for women looking to protect themselves while jogging. From our very first phone call, Avital was committed to partnering with the VTM Foundation, and although neither of us knew at the time what that might look like, we began holding bi-weekly phone calls with Caroline Tocci and Ashey McNiff, the VTM Foundation's co-founders. We realized that although our stories were different, our single focus was completely in sync: To touch as many women as possibly would with Avital's method and Vanessa's story. From this guiding principle, our annual mega-event was born.

Our first event in partnership with Avital, STRIKE for Vanessa, will be held on January 21st at Boston University, my and Vanessa's alma mater. Avital will tell the story of her attack first hand, teach the fundamentals of her STRIKE self-defense method, and empower women to use tools they already have to take self-defense into their own hands. My favorite part of Avital's technique is that it ends with a  visualization to cement the learnings, where women are challenged to picture a potential attack and formulate a hypothetical reaction. This practice of meditative visualizing can prevent the "freeze" that so many women experience after being attacked, and help them develop an authentic survival mindset or the street that can overpower their own personal limitations. 

Vanessa's favorite thing was to tell me about all the different ways she was going to change the world. Not a day goes by that I don't mourn the loss of not only my best friend, but all that she was going to do for humanity.  My hope and dream is that through this partnership with the VTM Foundation and Avital Zeisler, we can spread a message of empowerment and self preservation to women everywhere, while keeping Vanessa's spirit alive. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Please consider joining us early next year as we STRIKE for Vanessa on January 21st at Boston University, a 2-hour workshop brought to you by Reebok Boston. For more details and to purchase tickets, please visit our event page: https://strikeforvanessa.splashthat.com/.