Vanessa Marcotte's spirit of service lives on in her foundation

Nearly two years after Vanessa Marcotte's murder shook the small town of Princeton, her legacy and spirit of service are living on in the foundation in her name.

In August 2016, 27-year-old Marcotte, who had been working for Google and living in Manhattan, was visiting family and went on a run from their Princeton home. She was abducted and murdered.

Marcotte's cousin, Caroline Tocci, and best friend, Ashley McNiff, co-founded the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation, empowering women to "live boldly and fearlessly."

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In little more than a year, the pair, with help from family, friends and supporters, have raised $200,000 through fundraisers and events, giving back to charities and causes Marcotte supported and working to prevent similar tragedies.

Their mission is to reduce harassment against women, promote gender equality and provide self-defense training through grants.

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"Vanessa would’ve done anything in her power to prevent something similar from happening to someone else. We really try to use her story to spread awareness to prevent something like this from happening," McNiff said. "We right now focus on gender equality. So we support programs that educate both boys and girls on redefining gender stereotypes and a lot of the factors that contribute to harassment against women."

The foundation is currently gearing up for the biggest event of the year, the Vanessa T. Marcotte 5K Run/Walk at Wachussett Mountain, on June 16, what would have been her 29th birthday weekend.

"What happened to Vanessa - a murder - is really rare, but assault isn’t," Tocci said. "One in six women are assaulted, and so our foundation really focuses on helping women feeling empowered."

While family and friends are relieved by the arrest of a suspect in Marcotte's murder, for Tocci and McNiff, their goal is also to continue the service Marcotte was so passionate about.

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An avid volunteer, Marcotte spent her time tutoring kids, planting community gardens in the inner city and supporting Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children's Hospital.

"We’ve really channeled her kindness and compassion, because that’s what she would’ve wanted us to do," Tocci said.

The 5K will fall on a difficult weekend for loved-ones, but it will also be the best way to cope, surrounded by so many who care.

"It’s definitely reassuring to know that there is more good in the world than evil," McNiff said.

Those who would like to participate in the June 5K can register online by clicking on this link.