Fun events benefit serious cause

It's fun lacing up for a 5K run or dressing up for a gala. Discussing domestic violence? Not so much.

"We need to create a comfortable dialogue," said Meagan Fulmer, vice president for development at the Partnership Against Domestic Violence. "People have a lot of misconceptions about who it affects. It is in the mansion in Buckhead, it is in the high rise in Midtown. If we create a more comfortable environment, instead of hitting people over the head with how awful it is, you loosen up the conversation."

The PADV is gearing up for the 24th annual Hearts with Hope Gala. The black-tie event, chaired by Cecilia Houston Torrence of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, is planned for 6:30 p.m. April 21 at the Buckhead Ritz Carlton. Tickets start at $400 each. The gala will feature a release of 512 butterflies in the serendipitously named Monarch Plaza outside the Ritz Carlton, to symbolize the clients who have been served by PADV over the years. For information, go to or call 404-870-9600.

"I think we are really changing the gala up to be more of a celebration," Fulmer said. "We have to focus on the success stories."

The YWCA of Northwest Georgia, which operates a shelter for women and children escaping abusive homes, has two fundraisers on the books. The annual Tribute to Women of Achievement is co-chaired by Terri Bunten Guthrie, executive vice president for First Landmark Bank, and Pedro Cherry, Georgia Power's metro west region manager. Honorary co-chairs are attorney Eddie Cooper and Lockheed Martin vice president Shan Cooper. The business-attire events starts at 5:30 p.m. March 23 at the Cobb Galleria Centre, and tickets start at $100 each. The Y Not Run 5K and Skirt Race is on the books for April 14, stepping off at 8 a.m. from Marietta First United Methodist Church. Registration is $25 for the skirt race and $30 for the 5K. For information, visit or call 770-427-2902.

Organizers are looking forward to fun events while keeping the focus on the serious cause they benefit.

"The average time a victim goes back to their abuser is seven times," said Holly L. Comer, CEO and executive director of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia. Both she and Fulmer commented on the celebrity case that has propelled domestic violence into the pop culture stratosphere: singers Rihanna and Chris Brown recently collaborated on her new CD, three years after he was sentenced to probation and community service following charges he assaulted her. The professional reconciliation has drawn criticism and concern. (ABC News put it this way: "The man who bloodied and bruised Rihanna three years ago can now be heard on the pop princess' sexually charged 'Birthday Cake' remix.)

"Rihanna appearing to be back with Chris Brown is not rare," Comer said. "While in my opinion it is a tragedy considering the violence that occurred, we see this every day. and it is the cycle of abuse."

Noted Fulmer: "I don’t think from our perspective, it’s surprising. It takes many years for a woman to break ties from her abuser."

Charmagne Helton, who will be honored with the Purple Heart With Hope Survivor Award at the PADV's gala, can relate.

"It is a process. I tried to leave three times before I actually got out," she said. "When I had no safe place to go, my children and I lived in a PADV shelter for seven weeks. It was the best thing for my life at that time."

That was nearly nine years ago. Today Helton works as a human resources communications executive in metro Atlanta.

"It is an amazing journey," she said. "I feel excited and apprehensive and nervous, all at the same time. I’m very honored and very flattered to be receiving this recognition. We’re not getting together to celebrate the horrible situations women find ourselves in. We’re celebrating the fact that there is light at the end of the tunnel."