“It is estimated that one in ten teens will experience violence in their lifetime,” reads an article on youth.gov. Yet thanks to the efforts of a Hernando student, compassion and awareness are spreading far and wide across the area; this young lady is spreading rays of sunshine to offer endless hope and infinite knowledge.
In February, nationally recognized as Teen Violence Awareness Month, the iEmpower Club collaborated with The Dawn Center of Hernando County domestic violence and sexual assault center to raise awareness about Teen Dating Violence. The iEmpower Club is a division of Be Empowered Teens and Youth based at The WellCome OM Center in Spring Hill that claims as part of its mission "to provide the support, resources, and skills that teens need to improve their confidence and mental health.”
"As a part of this effort," wrote Sarina Singh, Program Director at Be Empowered, "iEmpower Club historian Olivia Nieland wrote about the event, highlighting the importance of Preventing Teen Dating Violence in our Community!"
In late September, Olivia's powerful words were published online on the Be Empowered Teens website. The essay, written by a Hernando ninth-grader, featured detailed reflections about this collaborative event, which involved teen's responses to real-life scenarios regarding teen dating violence.
"There was a group of people who commented that it was ‘pretty intense.’ And they were right because the topic couldn’t exactly be brought up in a subtle conversation," she wrote. "There needed to be some intensity and real-life examples so the teens could grasp that this was a topic that needed attention and awareness."
Olivia was pleased to see many concerned teens in attendance at the event.
"The turnout of the event exceeded our expectations. Many teens of varying ages came from around the area, and they were excited to learn and spread awareness on the topic," she wrote. "Of course, there were a couple teens or so who just tagged along with their friends but in the end, they were glad they did."
"Overall the teens enjoyed and appreciated the event and we hope they understood the gravity of the topic," she wrote. "Hopefully they will continue to spread awareness to reduce teen dating violence in the future."
In September, Olivia was honored in an iEmpower Student Spotlight. And her words continue to resound throughout the area.
"As for the iEmpower Club, Dawn Center is so honored to be involved with these wonderful community partners and future community leaders," said Shannon Sokolowski, MNM, Dawn Center Executive Director. "Dawn Center staff first became involved through our primary prevention efforts. We conducted a presentation about healthy relationships and how to help a friend if they become involved in a dating violence relationship. The group was so receptive and engaged that we began partnering more closely and intend to work closely together over the foreseeable future. One of the goals of our primary prevention efforts is to move from a framework of ‘bystander intervention’ to becoming an ‘UpStander.’ Olivia Nieland is clearly an
UpStander as evidenced by her successful efforts in engaging her peers and spreading awareness about teen dating violence."
This young UpStander, according to information provided by Singh, "joined the iEmpower Club because it helped her branch out while spreading awareness on very important teen health topics. Being an iEmpower Club Member has also been beneficial to her in helping her work through her social anxiety."
"I have been a member of iEmpower for a year now," she said. "I like how it's open to all teens of the community and how it reinforces our inclusive nature with our diversities, at our first meeting we were all a little nervous around each other, but quickly warmed up to and became friends."
Olivia takes her role as club Historian very seriously.
"As Historian of the club my duties include documenting the activities and events that we organize and take part in for the community, which includes writing articles and photographing the events," she said.
Olivia supports the concept of empowering other teens to combat teen dating violence.
"I believe teens everywhere should have a sense of empowerment to acknowledge and act on the signs and red flags of a toxic relationship," she said, "and I love the club where we can provide exercises and information to the community so they can recognize red flags in any form of a relationship and have the confidence to leave or get out safely."
Olivia is an artist who loves to draw. She enjoys baking and playing lacrosse and is bilingual, fluent in Spanish and English.
Aside from continuing her campaign of compassion against teen dating violence, Olivia has bright plans for the future.
"Ever since I was little I looked up to my aunt who attended Cornell University for Architecture, I wanted to follow in her footsteps and pursue the career as well," she said, "although becoming a surgeon has come in close second."
And for Olivia Nieland, the cause of helping others will always come in first. Audris Nieland, her mother, takes pride in her daughter's strong commitment to social justice issues, as fostered by the iEmpower Club.
"In this ongoing process I am overjoyed to see growth in her as an advocate for our community and all the self worth she has learned to embrace and share informing the public and peers to be aware of resources available to them," she said. "Olivia recognizes that it is important to voice all these tools directed to her age group which deal with all the social scenarios that are prevalent today. While still observing her in the long process of maturing (as children do), I can honestly tell you as her mother once when I had almost lost all hope in helping her now I see endless possibilities she is creating for herself."
"I am so thankful to all the individuals who were fundamental in her present growth," said Audris Nieland, "because it does take a community. And we have found a great one."
Send your good news notices to Hernando Sun community reporter Megan Hussey at [email protected] Show us your Sunshine!