May 1, 2014
By Stephanie Choate
This weekend, Williston residents will lace up their shoes and hit the pavement to raise funds and awareness for their homeless neighbors.
On May 4, approximately 1,500 Vermonters will take part in the 25th annual COTS Walk in Burlington. On any given night, COTS shelters between 60 and 80 people, including children, the elderly, people who are disabled and veterans. Currently, there are 24 children staying in COTS shelters, according to organizers.
The COTS Walk follows a 3.5-mile route in Burlington that a homeless person might use to receive services. It is the only time of the year when shelters are open to the public, so people can see how their donations are put to use.
Williston Girl Scout Troop 30164 is participating in the walk for the second year. Troop leader Kelley Merchant said the troop connected with COTS last year, and scouts were hooked on the walk.
“It definitely opened their eyes,” Merchant said. “We did a lot of research prior to the walk so they knew exactly what we were doing.”
Merchant said the girls were especially struck by the family house, which shelters children.
“It was pretty amazing to walk the paths some homeless people walk and be able to see what COTS has done for them,” Merchant said.
She said the troop is excited to participate again this year.
“They like to be together as a group and to be part of something that’s pretty amazing in the community,” Merchant said. “It’s a great program.”
The walk begins and ends in Battery Park, with a follow-up celebration including music, ice cream and other refreshments. Registration begins at 1 p.m. and walkers set out at 2 p.m. The walk itself takes about an hour, and a shorter option is available for families with young children.
COTS serves approximately 2,000 people annually, and is the largest provider for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in Vermont. It provides emergency shelter to homeless families and individuals, homelessness prevention, case-management and referral services to those who are homeless or marginally housed, and permanent housing to low-income families and individuals.
A group of approximately 10 Bellwether School students and their families are also taking part in the walk this year.
“Supporting the homeless is critical in Burlington,” said Claire Mahoney, school manager. “We wanted to do what we can do in our little way to support such a wonderful cause.”
The walk fits in with the school’s service learning component, which guides children in ways to help their community, “teaching the children the importance of helping others, and seeing their role in that,” Mahoney said.
The walk is COTS’s main fundraiser, and makes up a significant portion of the organization’s total funding. Organizers are hoping to raise $175,000. Since sponsors cover the event’s costs, every dollar raised goes toward services.
Anyone who wants to participate can register online at www.cotsonline.org or call 864-7402 for more information. Walk-ins and donations to walkers are also welcome.