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Public Allies help raise awareness of teen dating violence

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Sebastian Blackwell (left) and Danielle Feinberg, conduct a Bloom 365 class at Deer Valley High School on Dec. 9, 2016. (Photo: Tom Tingle/The Republic)


This article features Public Allies Arizona Class 2016-2017 participants, Sebastian Blackwell and Danielle Feinberg (GoPurple | Bloom 365).

Jan. 13, 2017 - At 22, Sebastian Blackwell could easily blend in with the students he’s overseeing at Deer Valley High School. The period is usually reserved for health class, but for seven days Blackwell will teach the kids about teen domestic violence .

When he’s not working toward his sociology degree, the Arizona State University senior is an educator and advocate for Bloom 365, which raises awareness in Valley high schools of dating abuse. The seven-day program is given to students once a day, with a different theme for each lesson.

Blackwell leads this class of 30 with his colleague Danielle Feinberg, also an educator and advocate. Both wear Bloom 365 purple shirts. His reads “Equality.” Hers reads “Empathy.” Today is lesson five, and the focus is self-esteem.

Blackwell asks the class, mostly freshmen, to define self-esteem and why it’s important. One girl responds, “If you love yourself, you can love someone else.”

Blackwell’s brows raise slightly, a bit surprised by her insight. “Yeah, that’s true,” he agrees.A professional portrait of Sebastian Blackwell, who is smiling.

A native of Prescott, Blackwell works with Bloom 365 through ASU’s Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation’s program Public Allies Arizona , which places service-minded individuals in 10-month internships at local non-profits. He’s been involved with Bloom 365 for five months.

Blackwell said he does not have personal experience with dating abuse or domestic violence but chose the organization because of Bloom 365 founder and executive director Donna Bartos.

“I have a personal passion for social justice. Donna is passionate, and she inspired me,” he said. “I’m working toward prevention.”

Blackwell and Feinberg move through the lesson, which relies heavily on an interactive exercise involving colored sticky notes and an orange sheet of paper.

Feinberg tells students to write their insecurities on a blue sticky note then crumple them up. She walks around the room with a small plastic basket and collects the notes.

“That’s what we’re doing with all of these insecurities ... things that make you not like yourself. We’re throwing them away,” Feinberg said.

Next, Blackwell asks everyone to take a green sticky note and write what makes them the happiest. These get stuck to a dry-erase  board and serve as visual inspiration.

Everyone has moved on to the next phase. As Feinberg speaks, a boy in the front row in a gray hoodie still clings to his crumpled blue sticky note.  Blackwell walks toward him and subtly holds the basket out. The boy places the blue paper in it.

Blackwell picks up the blue notes and reads some at random: Not smart enough. Too selfish. One wrote “nothing.” A few laugh. Then the next: My body. My nose. I’m ugly. Silence.

He holds up the basket and tells the class, “These blues are not who you are.”

Donna Bartos was the victim of dating abuse for five years when she was a teenager, she said. She witnessed domestic violence among family members growing up. Her very personal and painful experiences are the inspiration behind Bloom 365.

“I felt like we weren’t doing enough. We were still silenced by embarrassment and shame and the stigma that comes with it,” she said.

Bartos founded the Purple Ribbon Council to Cut Out Domestic Abuse in 2006. The name was officially changed in 2016 to Bloom 365.

She felt domestic violence wasn’t directly addressed publicly on a large stage.

For the first six years, the organization was a grassroots effort with volunteers, mostly stay-at-home moms, that held events across the country to train staff in salons and spas on what to do if they suspected a client was a victim of domestic violence. They held cut-a-thons and spin-a-thons at gyms to raise awareness and funding.

Around 2011, Bartos developed a flower-inspired “Are you Blooming or Wilting?” poster that visually outlined the root causes of abuse and showed how it is about power and control, not anger. She delivered the graphic to schools but realized it just touched the surface.

“We see women out there with black eyes. But it starts before that,” Bartos said. “It doesn’t start as physical.”

For Bartos, it started as verbal and emotional abuse that stripped her self-worth. She had difficulty ending abusive relationships then. She knew many kids were going through the same thing.

In 2012, Bartos changed the focus of her program and aimed it at 13- to 18-year-olds, teaching them about the early warning signs that indicate jealousy and desire for control, such as stalking or having their moves traced by someone claiming it was out of care and love. It also takes into account social media, song lyrics and even silence by peers who “don’t want to snitch.”

Bartos applied for and received grants to get started and bring the program into schools. Deer Valley and Camelback high schools were the first. Since then, about 15,000 students have gone through Bloom 365. Of the 5,000 students it reaches each year, about 650 say they have experienced dating abuse, Bartos said.

Bartos said 33 percent of teens experience dating abuse.

About 40 percent of Bloom 365 teens sign up to start a crew or club at their school and get coached on how to get it going. The program is currently in 10 Valley schools and Bartos has a wait list of 30. She’s working on a training program that would allow it to spread across the country.

Bartos said it costs $35 to deliver the education to each student. This is where funding from charities such as Season for Sharing plays a role.

“It’s been critical because we depend on community support to make this happen,” Bartos said. “Season for Sharing has enabled us to reach these teens and keep it going, but also helps to create a level of awareness that we’re here. That’s invaluable.”

There’s about eight minutes left in the period, and Blackwell leads the class into the final and possibly the most important exercise of the morning.

Every student has an orange piece of paper on his or her desk with the words, “Hello, I am ...” printed on it. Blackwell instructs them to write their first names on the sheet. He breaks the class into groups of three, and tells them to exchange papers and write something positive about the person they pick up.  They must do it, out of view from the person being written about.

There’s a buzz as everyone starts. They are taking it seriously. Some turn away to give others privacy. The look on many faces reveal they are taking their time and thinking hard to come up with appropriate descriptions.

Three girls are gathered by the door. One has her back turned while the other two use the wall as a hard surface to write on her orange sheet. She looks a little nervous.

Blackwell spots her. “They’re writing a lot of nice things. I can tell.”

Students return to their desks. . A student named Emily looks at her orange paper, puts her hand over her heart and makes an “aw” face to her friend. The other girl does the same.

Blackwell asks for volunteers to read something from their sheet. Emily does: “Funny and kind person.”

She opts to not read the others, which include: “the sweetest thing,” “frickin gorgeous” and “you’re hilarious.”

Later, Blackwell explained that this exercise usually gets the biggest immediate reaction.

“Some of them will tell me, ‘This made my day, my week,’ or, ‘I had no idea people I don’t know thought these great things about me,’” he said.

And while not every class is as responsive as the one he dismisses at 9:15 a.m. on that Friday, he knows it doesn’t have to be to make an impact.

“Even in classes that aren’t on, I see there are at least two or three kids that are into it. I know that I’ve reached at least one kid,” Blackwell said. “And if I reach just one kid, then that’s worth it.”

Author: Georgann Yara, Special for the Republic | | Source link here.