NORTH ADAMS — Advocates hope that a newly formed men's group will fill a gap in domestic violence prevention programs in North Adams.

The group has held its first meeting and will gather again at 5 p.m. June 26, at a location to be determined.

"It's something that's open to anybody in the community in Northern Berkshire that wants to engage," City Councilor Benjamin Lamb said at a recent City Council meeting.

The group expects to shape programming and take action to lessen violence, working with the Elizabeth Freeman Center, a nonprofit that provides services related to domestic violence and sexual assault with offices in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington.

"That was one area where there was a notable gap in the community," Lamb said of the men's group.

A call by two city councilors in January to address domestic violence in North Adams already has brought results, including the men's group.

Lamb and Councilor Marie T. Harpin acted in the wake of the killing of city resident Christa Steele-Knudslien. Her husband, Mark S. Steele-Knudslien, has been charged with murder.

"In light of the tragic murder of one of our community members, we are in the midst of an elevated community realization that domestic violence is an issue that exists here," Lamb and Harpin wrote in January. "While this is not something new, it is something that our residents are increasingly concerned about."

Mayor acts

In response to that letter, Mayor Thomas Bernard reached out to local agencies, including the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and the Northern Berkshire United Way.

The Public Safety Committee held a meeting on the topic in February, and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition dedicated its March forum to domestic violence discussion.

A recurring theme is that domestic violence intersects with other issues, including poverty, mental health and substance abuse, Bernard said.

"That creates an opportunity for ongoing coordination and collaboration among the providers of city services, including our public safety and the schools, both of whom were represented in the conversation," Bernard said.

Moving forward, Bernard said, the city will play a supporting role to agencies that deliver services.

"I really want to keep the domestic violence, sexual assault issue in the ear of the community," Harpin said, advocating that the city's Human Services Commission be the connection point between local agencies and the city.

The city plans to develop and participate in programming connected to National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

It will also discuss a city presence at the Elizabeth Freeman Center's annual Walk a Mile in her Shoes awareness event, and a second coalition forum.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.