By Rebecca Isenhart, Globe Correspondent
Lauren Cortizo has always wanted to tackle the Boston Marathon. “I promised myself that I would run it before I graduated,” she said. She had intended to run behind the registered runners as a “bandit” when a moment of serendipity changed her plans.
As part of her duties as a sorority sister of Kappa Gamma Chi, Cortizo was researching Casa Myrna Vasquez, Inc., a center for domestic violence survivors in the Boston area.
“I was on the Casa Myrna web site just to get more information about the beneficiary for Kappa stuff and I saw that they had another number left,” she said. “So I quickly applied.”
She was selected to be on the team of four runners, partly because of her affiliation with her sorority, which has dedicated its philanthropy efforts to alleviating domestic violence since 1997.
The 21-year-old Canton native and marketing major has run on the school’s cross country team for three years and served as captain for the past two. Her latest running endeavor has stirred up support from her hometown, where local news outlets have spread her story, as well as the Emerson community.
“I think it’s a great way to cap off her college career,” said Emerson cross-country coach John Furey of Cortizo’s marathon run. “It takes commitment, time, tremendous physical energy and mental energy, and to do it for a charity cause makes it even more special.”
“Lauren’s a great kid and I’ll be at Mile 20 waiting for her,” said Furey.
However, before she can toe the starting line, Cortizo must raise at least $5,000 for Casa Myrna Vasquez.
Fortunately, she also has the enthusiastic support of her sorority, which is no stranger to fundraising and is dedicating this year’s efforts to helping her meet her funding goals. Each year, Kappa Gamma Chi holds a week of awareness and fundraising events focused on reducing domestic violence, recently renamed “Emerald Empowerment.”
“It’s a week-long series of events dedicated to raising awareness,” said Kappa President Shanae Burch.
“Our week of campaigning is focused on raising funds for [Casa Myrna] and our other beneficiary, the Transition House,” said Monica De Pinto Ribero Hancke, co-chair of Emerald Empowerment week. This year, the funds raised will go toward reaching Cortizo’s marathon goal of $5,050, collected through the web site Crowdrise. Any additional funds will be donated to the sorority’s other beneficiary, another provider of domestic violence survivor assistance, Transition House in Cambridge.
Cortizo said she hopes the group’s efforts will propel her close to her goal. “Usually we raise between $2,000 and $4,000,” said Cortizo, who co-chairs the week-long series of events with Hancke. She’s also been collecting donations on her own, using her running blog, cortizorunsboston.tumblr.com, to thank contributors and update them on her progress. Emerald Empowerment week will be a help, “but it’s a lot of money to raise,” she said.
Cortizo said a tour of Casa Myrna Vasquez strengthened her resolve when a representative showed her the call center for SafeLink, the only 24/7 hotline for domestic violence victims in Massachusetts.
“To be in that room and hear the phone ring and hear a counselor talk to someone is when it really hits you as to what they’re doing and how much of an impact they really have,” she said.
Burch said remembering the statistic that one in four college women will experience domestic violence is the most powerful motivator for her to raise money for the beneficiary. “You can fill all of the theaters on campus and that’s still not equal to the amount of people who experience it on campus if you take away gender,” she said.
Training to run more than 26 miles is a big challenge. But, she says, she finds motivation in the cause.
“I always wear my Casa Myrna bracelet. And that kind of just reminds me of what I’m running for and who I’m running for. I’m very close with a lot of people who have been affected by this, and it’s definitely them who keep me going,” she said. “The fact that I’m running on behalf of Kappa, it’s like I’m running in their name, so that keeps me going.”
“I also have this new phone background — this is obviously not the reason, but it helps a little bit. And it’s Ryan Gosling, and it says, ‘Hey girl, I’m waiting for you at the finish line.’ That’s my newest form of inspiration.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.