This time last year, Michael Capozzoli was getting ready to walk across America.
The sole purpose was to raise money to build a pet-friendly shelter for women and children trying to leave abusive relationships.
“Pet is the operative word because most shelters don’t accept pets,” the Boston native said.
His journey began last February in Dana Point, California, and ended Sept. 24 in Boston‘s Fenway Park. He walked a total of 3,200 miles across 12 states.
“It was nothing like I thought it would be and more than I could have hoped for,” he said. Last year, Capozzoli, more affectionately known as “Cappi” launched his website, justapennyplease.org to start raising money. The name behind “Just A Penny” is to emphasize that no donation is too small.
“I’m just doing my little part,” he said. “If I can get one doggie door flap this year, then I’ve pretty much succeeded.”
The idea behind Just A Penny, Capozzoli said, began years ago when he made a promise to his maker to build a safe house for those trying to escape domestic violence or abusive situations.
A question Capozzoli said he was asked a lot during his walk across the country was where he planned to put the shelter.
“I had to parse my words carefully and answer the question like this,” he said. “’Tell me a bad place to protect children and we will not put one there.’”
One humbling aspect of the journey Capozzoli didn’t expect was how open people were with their stories.
“It was a little overwhelming sometimes,” he said. “I didn’t expect that. My background is not clinical. It’s not social work at all actually.”
Another thing that surprised him was the shame survivors of abuse carry with them.
“It was a little hard to take sometimes because there is no shame,” he said. “These kids did nothing wrong, these women did nothing wrong, these men did nothing wrong … so if we start talking about it, we get these things out of the backrooms, then maybe we can start to shed some light on it. We can’t fix it but we sure can change it.”
The shelter project is in partnership with the Verde Valley Sanctuary. Capozzoli raised a little over $42,000 during his walk across America but his journey isn’t over. His goal is to raise $250,000.
“We are trying to get exposure for this,” he said.
The next steps of Capozzoli’s journey is continuing conversations with the Verde Valley Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary shelters women, children and members of the LGBTQ community coming from situations of violence and domestic abuse. The facility offers resources and contacts for legal help as well as transitional housing.
The shelter has 10 rooms and 28 beds. The shelter has housed up to 40 people during emergency situations, said Executive Director Matthew Kelley.
The sanctuary’s location is on a “need to know,” Kelley said, to keep residents safe from abusers.
Kelley said the organization didn’t solicit Capozzoli. According to Kelley, Capozzoli called the Sanctuary about building a shelter.
“I thought, ‘yeah OK.’ I said, ‘good for you Cappi,’” he said. “So many people are full of bullst – and he is too – but he actually follows through and does it.”
Kelley admits that he is often jaded by human conduct.
“But when I think of the story of Cappi, I weep,” he said. “He walks his talk. He never asks anyone for anything. He’s cheerful about it.”
To donate to or learn more about Just A Penny, visit JustAPennyPlease.org.
If you or anyone you know is a victim of abuse and needs refuge, call the Verde Valley Sanctuary hotline at 800-930-7233 or 928-634-2511.