Experience shows that the relationships people form in their teenage years greatly influence the ones they form as adults. In Alabama, 12 percent of high school students report being harmed by a dating partner, and 1-in-4 teen girls and 1-in-6 teen boys become victims of sexual assault before they reach adulthood. Understanding that prevention is a key to breaking the cycle of domestic violence, the YWCA Central Alabama’s Healthy Relationships program focuses on building solid relationships at an early age.
Championed by AmeriCorps
members Katie Reed and Jessica Altice, the YWCA’s Healthy Relationships outreach is a division of the YWCA’s Domestic Violence Services Department.
In 2014, the program has been presented in several area schools, reaching approximately 665 students, and to an all-boys mentoring group at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The AmeriCorps members engage students in conversations about the differences in healthy and unhealthy relationships, the warning signs of abusive relationships, how to help friends who are being abused, and ways to protect oneself from sexual assault.
“One of my favorite activities that we do with students is our Refuse Abuse Red Flags,” said Reed. “We have students write on paper flags why they refuse to abuse or refuse to be abused, and the schools usually display their work.”
One student wrote, “I don’t want to physically or emotionally hurt someone I love and care for. I refuse to abuse because I’m better than that.” Another wrote, “I refuse to be abused because I know I deserve to be loved and protected instead of abused. I know my worth.”
Reed also noted that the flags are special to her because they demonstrate that the students are able to personalize the information they discuss.
AmeriCorps member Jessica Altice joins Reed on the Healthy Relationships team as they travel to Birmingham-area schools. Altice said that she believes her time spent in the schools this year has been extremely beneficial to the students.
“Our main focus is discussing the aspects of healthy and abusive relationships, but we also teach them skills that will help them throughout their lives.” said Altice. “We teach them about empathy, respect, acceptance, and being good friends. These life lessons not only help them be better boyfriends and girlfriends, but they also teach them to be better people.”
Knowing the importance of education, and being an example through their AmeriCorps service is a part of what Katie and Jessica do daily. They hope their message will help change — and save — lives.
During the month of February, the Refuse Abuse Red Flags were replaced with paper hearts, and many were displayed in the YWCA’s lobby to inspire and encourage others. This idea allowed Reed and Altice to take the message of Healthy Relationships from the classroom to the real world.
The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and highlighting the theme of healthy futures during the month of March. For more information about the 20th anniversary, please visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary Resource Center.