By MEGAN HUSSEY
Valentine's Day is the international celebration of love and romance; the last day that anyone wants to discuss or consider the subject of violence.
Sadly, though, nearly 1.5 million high schoolers in the U.S. experience physical abuse from a dating partner every year. And in anticipation of Valentine's Day, The Dawn Center domestic and sexual violence center and Be EMPOWERED Teens & Youths are teaming up to present Help a Friend: Preventing Teen Dating Violence--Recognize Teen Dating Violence & Learn How to Stop It in Your Communities, 5:30-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 at WellCome OM Center, 4242 Lake in the Woods Drive, Spring Hill.
"Friends Don't Let Friends Stay in Toxic Relationships" is the theme of this program, open to both teens and parents. This educational, interactive workshop is intended to empower attendants to stop teen dating violence in this community.
"It was important for us to do this right before Valentine's Day," said Jessica Coughlin, The Dawn Center's Community Engagement Coordinator. "This is a time when so many teens are in love, and it seems so romantic--but there are other things to consider."
During the workshop, teens and parents will complete an "In Their Shoes" activity first developed by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Those who participate in this role-playing activity choose one of six characters, based on real teens facing real issues. Participants then review their character's reactions and interactions with people in their lives, and are then offered choices about how to resolve issues. The activity will culminate with a debriefing discussion.
"Our goal is to teach teens to more effectively understand, recognize, and ultimately take steps to prevent dating violence now and in the future," read an event announcement.
By putting themselves "In Their Shoes," participants can learn how to help.
"They can learn about what to do to help friends in toxic relationships," said Coughlin. "They can get a prospective on how to help people in these situations."
Sarina Singh, peer educator at Be EMPOWERED, hopes that this event will open eyes and minds in equal measure.
"I don't know if many teens recognize that these types of scenarios can actually happen in real life. I hope that after the event, they'll start to see the subtle red flags and toxic behaviors that most people think are ‘no big deal,’" said Singh. "I hope they talk about it and are inspired to create positive change."
Ultimately, organizers also hope that guests will learn about helpful resources available right here in the Hernando area.
"I hope they understand that they can always turn to us [Be EMPOWERED & The Dawn Center] when they have questions and need support," said Singh. "We also want teens and families to be aware that Be EMPOWERED Teens & Youths and The Dawn Center are valuable resources for support and information."
"If people feel triggered by anything they hear at the workshop, we'll have staff on hand to help," she said. "We want them to know about the resources we can offer. If they need us, they can call us."
For more information about Help a Friend: Preventing Teen Dating Violence, call (352) 600-4242 EXT 4004. The event is also listed on eventbrite.com
The Dawn Center crisis hotline is 352-686-8430.
Although ‘Help a Friend’ does warn of the dangers of toxic relationships, organizers agree that the workshop remains centered on the subject of love; the love of family and friends, and of neighbors in the community, that care about and protect each other.