Helping to empower women one step at a time

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • February 24, 2016

A little less than a year ago, Ellen Rothfuss didn’t think she could run two miles. As every new marker went from impossible to conquered, this motivation came to her as an opportunity to race for fellow women. 

Rothfuss, a junior communication sciences and disorders major, stood by and watched her friends, Kappa Gamma Chi sorority sisters, and her boyfriend cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon last year. Inspired, she said she knew she wanted to complete that goal too. 

She said when she found out that her favorite organization, Casa Myrna Vasquez, had a team from a presentation to her sorority, she jumped on it.

 Casa Myrna is a nonprofit in Boston, and its three centers provide relief for people, mainly young women, who need to leave their homes because they are unsafe due to reasons of domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, or other tragedy. 

“I didn’t know I could be supporting a cause while doing something for myself,” Rothfuss said. “A few [Kappa sisters] have actually [run] for the same organization. I thought that was pretty cool.” 

Casa Myrna’s team is partnered with the John Hancock non-profit organization. The Hancock team has been a sponsor of the marathon for over 30 years and raised $28.3 million in 2015.

Director of development and communication at Casa Myrna, Leela Strong, said she was happy to have Rothfuss as a member of the nonprofit’s three-person team. 

Strong said she’s glad to have a team member from a sorority, because it helps to represent the importance of women helping other women. 

“I think it’s fantastic,” Strong said. “That is so incredibly personal for our members. It’s a beautiful gift that she’s a part of this.” 

Kappa has helped fundraise for the shelter for 13 years, Rothfuss said, and she feels closely aligned with the charity’s mission and values. Being a local organization, Rothfuss said that some of the people she helps could be walking down the street right next to her in Boston. 

“It means a lot to me because the majority of their clients are women,” Rothfuss said. “And empowerment of women is very important to me, especially empowerment of young women.” 

Hannah Perrin is one of Rothfuss’s sorority sisters and one of her strongest supporters. Rothfuss said that Perrin helped her begin training.

“[Perrin] would go running with me and I remember her trying to push me to just try for two miles,” Rothfuss said. “I set out to do only 1.5 and I said, ‘I can’t do it,’ and she was like, ‘You can.’”

To prepare for the race, Rothfuss is training with Emerson’s cross country coach, John Furey.

Furey said that Rothfuss is one of the only college students training and he thinks it’s a sign of maturity for someone to take on something like that so young. 

“I think it’s wonderful,” Furey said. “Especially someone still in college it’s a great thing, and it’s also pretty rare to step outside your comfort zone, dealing with getting up early on a Saturday and running 16 miles, especially if it’s frigid or raining.” 

Rothfuss said it’s been challenging both physically and mentally as she tries to fit in a workout every day, with more intensive training on the weekend. 

Her Saturday morning workouts begin at 6:30 a.m. She said she takes a foam roller to her back, and then rushes over to Kenmore Square to join 50-75 other nonprofit runners for a long run together, she said. The long runs gradually increase, and soon she will be running 21 miles.

Rothfuss said that although she is exhausted after these long runs, the day doesn’t end there—she then usually works on upcoming fundraising projects for the shelter.

So far, Rothfuss said she’s organized different types of events to help her raise money towards her goal of $10,000. After her most recent fundraiser, last Friday, she said she is now around halfway through achieving her goal. 

The runner said she began fundraising in her hometown of Roosevelt, New Jersey, over winter break, offering a babysitting service at her old high school. 

Since Rothfuss has been back at school, she’s started soliciting help from the college community. Recently, she said she delivered grilled cheeses around campus. She said she sold over 90 sandwiches, but was mostly impressed by the support she received from those close to her.

“All of my friends who have been helping me with all of these events that I’ve been having really pushed me to keep going,” Rothfuss said. “Seeing how many of my friends actually showed up was really heartwarming to me. It made me really excited about doing that fundraiser and doing more in the future.”

Rothfuss described sorority sister Emily Tully, a sophomore visual and media arts major, as one of her biggest supports.

“I basically just follow her lead,” Tully said. “It’s just really nice to see someone work so hard, and do this with so much passion, that it kind of makes me want help out and be a part of it somehow.”