The Grow and Go Strong project moved a step closer to becoming reality during a groundbreaking ceremony at The Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons' headquarters on Lancaster Street on Sunday afternoon.


The goal of the charitable effort is to create a small park and walking trail at the Cumbee Center's emergency shelter. Leadership Aiken County's Class of 2013-2014 is the sponsor of Grow and Go Strong.


Women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse live in the shelter along with their children. Its location is confidential, so Grow and Go Strong's groundbreaking ceremony wasn't held there.


“Our ladies are always wanting to get out of the shelter and get some exercise,” said Kay Mixon, the Cumbee Center's executive director. “Now, instead of going out on the street and being in danger, they'll have this private place to go to.”


The park's walking trail will be 550 feet in length and 4 feet wide. A six-foot fence and evergreen shrubs will provide privacy. There also will be a pergola and benches in the park.


“It will be a good place to do some one-on-one counseling,” Mixon said. “I know I'm looking forward to getting away and going there sometimes to meditate.”


The park and walking trail will be built at a site on the shelter's land.


“The first year we were at the shelter, we had a great big garden there,” Mixon said. “Only a few of us worked in the garden, so we decided, 'OK, we won't do that again.' The land has just been sitting there ever since.”


The purpose of Leadership Aiken County is to identify, develop and motivate community leader prospects. Professionals and civil servants participate in the nine-month program.


Grow and Go Strong's walking trail and park will cost approximately $25,000 to complete, according to Mike Bimrose, who is the project manager for Leadership Aiken County's Class of 2013-2014.


“We've raised about $8,500 and continue to look for financial support, materials and service support,” he said.


Erika Wisdom, who was the groundbreaking ceremony's emcee, spoke about the widespread problem of domestic abuse locally and at the state level in explaining why Leadership Aiken County's latest class chose a project that would help the Cumbee Center.


“In 2013, the Cumbee Center assisted between 4,000 and 5,000 people,” she said. “During any given week, they were counseling between 50 to 70 individuals.”


South Carolina ranks No. 1 nationally when it comes to men killing women, Wisdom added. Based on the latest figures, which were released last year by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., the rate of females murdered by males in the Palmetto State was 2.54 per 100,000 in 2011. That was more than double the national average.


“These are very eye-opening numbers,” Wisdom said.


For more information about Grow and Go Strong or to find out how to donate, call 803-644-1902 or visit the project's website at www.lacgrowandgostrong.net.


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.