Twenty-five years ago, Danielle Osborne-Brown had a fateful meeting in Denny’s on the Golden Mile.
She served her regulars, as usual, but bore the marks of domestic violence. Jokes were made about her falling down the stairs again.
Then Osborne-Brown approached a table of women she had not seen before. One of them handed her a phone number.
She didn’t know it, but that number would connect her to the Heartly House. It led to her escaping abuse she had endured for years.
Osborne-Brown was among three survivors who spoke at Baker Park Sunday during Walk a Mile in Their Shoes.
Versions of the event are held across the country to raise awareness of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. The Frederick event raises funds for the Heartly House, a Frederick-based organization that provides shelter, safety and supportive services to survivors.
The event was previously titled, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. Heartly House President and Executive Director Inga James said the name changed locally in 2017 to be more inclusive, as domestic violence does not solely victimize women.
Before the mile walk began around Baker Park, supporters gathered at the gazebo to hear survivors’ stories.
Osborne-Brown detailed the abuse she and her children suffered. In 1997, she said she left her husband, taking her four children (and twins on the way) with her.
They made it to a pay phone, and Osborne-Brown dialed the number she’d been holding on to, not knowing who would be on the other line.
“But lo and behold, it was the Heartly House,” Osborne-Brown told the crowd at Baker Park Sunday.
The Heartly House representative gave her the shelter’s address. Once there, they gave her clothing, toiletries and a safe place for her and her children to stay. Osborne-Brown sat down and cried.
“People I did not know helped me and said ... ‘We’re here for you,’” she said.
Now, Osborne-Brown is using her experience to help others. She is the domestic violence crisis services coordinator for Services Empowering Rights of Victims in Gloucester County, New Jersey. She is also a mother to 10 children.
At the walk, Osborne-Brown was among many people who have dedicated themselves to service.
Survivor Becca Downs is a licensed social worker who has worked at Heartly House. She suffered abuse from three partners earlier in life.
As she spoke, Downs’ mother rested a supportive hand on her daughter’s back.
When tears began to fall, someone handed Downs a tissue. When she paused to collect herself, members of the crowd offered words of encouragement.
Downs invited other survivors to step forward and be recognized.
“You do not have to survive this alone,” she told them.
When survivor Cindie Beach stepped up to speak, she said she’d struggled to determine whether she had the “right” to be on stage.
“What I’ve come to realize is that trauma is not a competition,” she said.
Like Downs and Osborne-Brown, she has also turned to serving others. Beach is one of the founders of The Frederick Center, a nonprofit that provides resources and programs to the LGBTQ community.
Beach survived intimate partner abuse. She told survivors they are more than their trauma.
“Healing is not a linear journey,” Beach said.
As the walk began, participants carried signs bearing domestic violence statistics. One said, “1 in 3 women have had an abusive intimate partner.”
Other signs offered support, with phrases such as, “You are brave.”
Participant Sherry Harper, of Frederick County, wore a handmade T-shirt that said, “I am worthy of love.”
Heartly House intern Asiayonna Jones attended a different Walk in Their Shoes event earlier that week, at Hood College. She is a sophomore studying social work.
“This cause means so much to me because I am a survivor,” Jones said.
Myersville resident Brenda Stemple, 58, said she came to the event because Heartly House has provided counseling to her. She is a survivor of childhood abuse.
“It’s been a huge turnaround for my life,” she said.
Heartly House educated Stemple and made her feel validated. She said understands herself better now.
A tear slid down Stemple’s face as she shared her experiences in an interview. She did not want a tissue. She said she is not afraid to show her emotions.
“I got this,” Stemple said.