February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), a national effort to help raise awareness about teen dating violence, provide prevention education, and promote healthy relationships. Teen dating violence is an adverse childhood experience that affects millions of young people in the United States – about 1 in 12 U.S. high school students reported experiencing physical dating violence according to the CDC. Dating violence can take place in person, online, or through technology, CDC Fast Facts: Preventing Domestic Violence, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teendatingviolence/fastfact.html, February 28, 2022.

In an effort to raise awareness about teen dating violence and promote healthy relationships, Empower Yolo’s After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) program at Woodland High School, and Empower Youth Service Club at Davis High School are hosting various workshops, activities, and events for students throughout the month.

ASSETs – ASSETs program leaders that work with teens year round see issues/behaviors regarding teen dating violence, and how social media is affecting relationships. “With the access our youth has to technology and social media now, the way they view relationships has become a bit distorted,” says Brisa Perez, Empower Yolo ASSETs Youth Programs Director, Woodland High School. “There are so many false narratives being showcased on these platforms that they become normalized and sometimes they even glamorize certain unhealthy behaviors in relationships. This becomes an issue when teens consume this information and are led to believe that this is the way relationships work,” says Perez.

ASSETs will host its annual month-long TDVAM campaign at Woodland High School to help educate local teens on the issues, provide a safe space, and equip them with healthy relationship skills.

The campaign will include weekly workshops throughout the month of February. Various interactive activities are being incorporated into the workshops in order to make them both educational and engaging for the students. This year, Empower Yolo’s Youth Advocate will also be co-facilitating these workshops with the ASSETs team in Knights Landing in order to expand awareness in rural areas where workshops like this might not be normally available. Plans include an art contest to encourage student creativity and engagement. Students will be able to create their take on what healthy relationships look like. They can use any method through which they would like to communicate their message through social media, info graphic, or it can be done as a meme. Students will vote for the winning submission during the last workshop and the winner will receive a prize box. ASSETs will also provide services and resources for students.

Program leaders’ goals are to raise more awareness about teen dating violence for this campaign. “Our goals for this campaign are to educate youths on the importance of this topic. We believe that even reaching five students can cause a ripple effect and lead to an overall increased awareness in our community. It will be like planting a seed, which will be watered by every person who passes on the information or begins to practice healthy relationship habits. While it is more a long-term goal, ultimately we would like to see a community full of supporters who are aware of how to guide youths in fostering healthy relationships. Whether it is peer-to-peer, peer-to-parent, or parent-to-parent, we will be able to foster a stronger community through creating healthy relationships with one another,” says Perez.

The ASSETs program has proven success. In 2022 the ASSETs program served 4,141 students. During the year ASSETs provides prevention education through its curriculum and fosters healthy relationships among the students. “Throughout last semester we held a couple of mental health workshops in which we talked about the way our relationships impact our overall well-being. We plan on having these types of conversations with students and inform them about the effects that our relationships have in our lives both short and long term,” says Perez.

Empower Youth at Davis High School (DHS) – Empower Youth is a community service club led by students that support Empower Yolo and the children at Empower Yolo’s shelter.  The club started with 12 local teens in 2020 and since then has expanded to over 100 members at DHS and also a club at Emerson Junior High School with 24 members. Empower Youth at Emerson will be providing the children at the shelter valentine treat bags and cards promoting healthy relationships. Empower Youth at DHS is planning to raise awareness and promote healthy relationships through club activities.

During the month the club plans to have an Empower Yolo youth advocate speak to students about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. Students led by Holt Klineberg, Empower Youth senior leader are creating an informational video, which will be featured on the breakdown for the HUB, the DHS online news source at bluedevilhub.com. Club leaders also plan to hand out information on services and resources. “Our awareness meetings and events are important for DHS and the community because they help people realize that our town is not immune to teen dating violence. Often, people think of Davis as a little bubble where no harm happens, but in reality, many teens are subject to dating violence, but they don’t realize it because they don’t know what it is. Our meetings are meant to educate people and help them and others realize if they or someone they know are in an unhealthy relationship,” says Tory Agnew, Empower Youth president at DHS.

Club officers did an informational quote campaign, which they will share with students to help raise awareness:

What does healthy relationships mean to you? “A healthy relationship should bring out the best in you and your partner.” -John Churchward, Empower Youth community service officer. “Healthy relationships involve trust that you are safe with your partner; they also involve communication, letting your partner know when something is bothering you.” -Devan Elson, Empower Youth shelter tutor. “A healthy relationship to me involves trust and respect between one another and knowing you’re safe at all times because your partner has your best interest at heart.” – Luke Isidor, Empower Youth donations coordinator. “Healthy relationships mean productive communication and understanding the different needs of the other person. Each person is bringing something to the relationship, and they are respected for it. Healthy relationships are important for every relationship, with a significant other or a sibling or a friend. Ideally, you feel respected, supported, comfortable and cared for. These relationships benefit both people, making them better together.” – Holt Klineberg, Empower Youth shelter tutor.

Why is it important to promote healthy relationships with friends/peers/classmates? “With the spread of the ideology behind healthy relationships through friends/peers/classmates, ideally, the perspectives of all are shifted so that everyone can understand what healthy relationships are and why they are so important.” – Cody Leveau, Empower Youth communications officer. “It’s important to promote healthy relationships with peers because the more that people are able to spread awareness about it, less people will get trapped in an unhealthy or toxic relationship.” – Aiden Crawford, Empower Youth treasurer. “Students who have access to strong relationships are more academically engaged, have stronger social skills, and experience positive behavior.” – Gizaw Baker, Empower Youth vice president. It is important to promote healthy relationships with friends/peers/classmates because many high school students are in unhealthy relationships whether they know it or not and it is important to educate them on the signs.” -Evan Isidor, Empower Youth donations coordinator.

Empower Youth’s goals are to promote healthy relationships for their campaign. “As members of Empower Youth, we strongly believe that it’s important to promote healthy relationships with our friends, peers and classmates. I know so many students at the high school who have experienced unhealthy and abusive relationships and never knew what was happening was wrong. People don’t always understand that the smallest things like your partner constantly checking your phone or getting mad when you’re with other people are signs of unhealthy relationships. That’s why we try to raise awareness about these problems and help students with information and resources to avoid relationships like these in the future,” says Sabrina Hazel, Empower Youth vice president.

“The meetings and events are a great way to hear others, make new friends, and realize you are not alone. My goal for youth empowerment is to be there for my community and fellow peers in anyway possible.” – Houston McCray, Empower Youth diversity and inclusion officer. “The most important thing that we want to accomplish with TDVAM is to help people understand what’s healthy and what isn’t. And also for people to know what to do when they are in these unhealthy relationships,” says Bekele Baker, Empower Youth secretary.

The community can help support our local teens in the following ways: 1) donate to Empower Yolo’s prevention education program to help us reach more teens at empoweryolo.org (according to the California Partnership To End Domestic Violence 1 in 3 youth experience teen dating violence, but prevention is seriously underfunded in California); 2) wear orange on Tuesday, February 7 in support of Wear Orange Day to raise awareness about teen dating abuse; take a selfie and tag Empower Yolo on Facebook @empoweryolo, Instagram and Twitter @empower_yolo; 3) become a sponsor for TDVAM next year to help us engage the community and reach more youths; 4) attend the ASSETs parent workshop at the end of the month on TDVAM to help understand this topic and better support your children (see @assets_programs on Instagram); 5) follow ASSET’s month-long awareness campaign to show your support of TDVAM and healthy relationships. Follow their efforts on social media and join Empower Yolo’s email list at empoweryolo.org. Thank you to Woodland Presbyterian Church for sponsoring TDVAM again this year and supporting Empower Yolo’s prevention education program.  We appreciate their continued support.

“Our community plays a major role in educating and guiding our youth. Leading by example is one of the best ways to do this. When we demonstrate our commitment to youths and are able to foster healthy relationships with them and those around us, we are able to show them what these relationships can and should look like. Being a support system for youths is essential. Whether it is providing them a safe space to confide in someone, being a mentor, showing them what healthy relationships look like, or even asking them how we can better support them are other ways that we can help them. Additionally, educating ourselves on issues like this and finding ways to educate others are vital,” says Perez.

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