NIAGARA FALLS – Michele G. Bergevin is the type of person who goes all-out.
For example, when given the chance to assist an organization dedicated to ending the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation, Bergevin didn’t merely write a check.
The Niagara Falls attorney, known as one of the area’s fiercest courtroom advocates, has run half-marathons to raise money for the group World Vision and even brought a non-running friend, Kathleen Gaines, off the couch to join her, after Gaines was the one who told her about World Vision.
The Christian humanitarian organization seeks sponsors for children in impoverished countries, and also works to prevent sex trafficking of vulnerable children.
On Nov. 2, Bergevin, 45, will be running the New York City Marathon to raise more money for the effort.
Her goal for the race is $5,000, and as of last week, she already had collected $2,550.
Bergevin, an assistant public defender as well as an attorney in private practice who does many divorce cases, has picked up her share of knowledge about sex trafficking.
For one thing, she has been assigned to defend several men on charges of possession of child pornography. Little of the material her clients have downloaded originates in the United States.
“The prosecutors can tell you who took the pictures. ‘Oh, this came from so-and-so in Germany,’” Bergevin said.
Although she has a duty to defend the indigent sex offenders whose cases land in her inbox, Bergevin said her outside-the-courtroom desire is “to protect children, who are our most vulnerable people.”
The story began with a book called “Running For My Life” by Lopez Lomong, a Sudanese boy who in 1991, at age 6, was kidnapped by guerrillas in that country’s long-running civil unrest. He managed to escape to a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, where he lived for almost 10 years.
Then, coming to the United States with the aid of Catholic Charities, he represented the U.S. in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games as a long-distance runner. Gaines was an excited reader of his story.
It inspired Gaines to visit Lomong’s website, where she learned about ways to contribute money for his fight against sex traffickers.
The choices were to donate, buy a T-shirt or “13.1 NY Run.” For some reason, Gaines clicked on the latter.
“I’m not a runner. I don’t really like running,” Gaines said in an interview. Later on in the conversation, she amended her statement.
“I hate running,” she said.
Despite that, Gaines found herself looking at information for a half-marathon on her Smartphone.
“I said to Michele, ‘Would you do this with me?’ She said, ‘Sure.’ I said, ‘How long is that?’ She said, ‘Thirteen-point-one miles.’ I said, ‘That doesn’t sound like fun,’” Gaines recalled.
It was no big deal for Bergevin, who runs daily, has completed the Buffalo Niagara marathon three times, and has run many shorter races. Her best marathon time is 3 hours, 50 minutes.
“Michele’s a runner. She’s always been a runner. She’s very fast. She could probably qualify for New York City,” Gaines said. But instead, Bergevin will be running the big race as an invitee of World Vision.
That’s because she and Gaines ran other races on behalf of the anti-trafficking organization. In March 2013, they ran that half-marathon in the Big Apple along with Gaines’ sister, Teresa Josey, and the three women raised a total of $6,000. Gaines’ time was 3 hours, 15 minutes.
“I’m not a spring chicken. I’m 54 years old. I’m very slow,” Gaines said.
In February of this year, they traveled to Miami for another 13.1-mile event. That one didn’t go so well, as far as Gaines was concerned. She discovered that her indoor treadmill training during a harsh Western New York winter didn’t cut it.
“I went from 20 degrees to 75 degrees and humid,” Gaines said. But she made it in 3 hours, 30 minutes, and the collective effort raised another $3,000 for World Vision.
“Then they invited people who had run in their races to run the New York City Marathon for World Vision, to try to raise money to stop sex trafficking. That’s a cause I feel very strongly about,” Gaines said.
But when it comes to running, she knows where to draw the line. She’s going to New York – to greet Bergevin at the finish line.
“All because I read a book. It really moved me, in a couple of ways,” Gaines said,
Tax-deductible donations for Bergevin’s run can be made by visiting teamworldvision.donordrive.com. Once on the site, donors should click on “Find Your Friend” and search for Michele Bergevin.
“It’s about sex trafficking and kids, to get people out of those situations,” Bergevin said.