• Choose Respect campaign gives tools to help communities for healthy family options
By Naomi Klouda
Gov. Sean Parnell addressed Homer providers, parents, students and school staff Wednesday night to take part in the community’s dialogue on sexual assault and solutions for helping young people make good choices.
“In this state, domestic violence and sexual assault is at epic levels, whether it is Homer, Anchorage, Kipnik, Kodiak, all around the state. We deal with these issues daily. Law enforcement, shelters, families deal with these issues every day,” Parnell said. “It’s not every day we have an opportunity to not shove it under the rug but to actually have a dialogue…We value and believe in the value of other human beings and we stand by Alaskans in their time of need.”
A big “Choose Respect” sign was stretched across the high school theater’s stage at the event, hosted by South Peninsula Haven House. Executive Director Jessica Lawmaster has been in a dialogue with the governor’s office since the Sept. 8 sexual assault on a 17-year old male at a drunken teen party involving up to 80 youth. Parnell said he heard about the incident through news accounts, and has kept in touch with the issue through his initiative coordinator, Katie TePas.
The governor’s campaign to end domestic violence and substance abuse offers training programs for school counselors and others working with children. Coaching Boys to Men is a character building curriculum for coaches and athletes founded by non-profit advocacy group Futures Without Violence. It is a growing component of the governor’s Choose Respect initiative, a curriculum that melds coaches’ status as role models with athletes’ influence among their peers into a collective effort to end this violence. Coaches become part of the solution – stopping the violence before it starts.
In Homer, Cody Davidson of Haven House Youth on Record, Police officer and Coach Lary Kuhns and Rachel Romberg, victims’ services program manager, have completed the CBTM training. At Wednesday’s meeting, the audience was to break into work groups to address realistic actions.
These dialogues are important, Parnell said, because communities can decide what kind of a culture they want to be.
“I can’t solve it for you. I can’t fix it. I can’t make it right. But I can support you to help you make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Parnell said. “No one deserves this. There must be justice. I want to get a sense of the dialogue by sitting in on these groups. If you have an idea then say here’s a change in school policy we need to make. Here’s other changes in the community we can make. The choices you make for the community, they mean something to our state of Alaska. I’m here to support you in this and offer my voice in support of never seeing another family destroyed by sexual assault.”
The peer helper group, PHAT, demonstrated three scenarios through role playing to show how to stop a girl and boy’s antagonistic dialogue from escalating to a more serious situation. (PHAT is also a program funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, incorporated into the governor’s Chose Respect initiative.)
Trevor Waldorf, Zoe Story, Haley Smith, Dylan Wylde and Sierra Moskiosk demonstrated the “Three Ds:” Direct, delegate and distract.
In the scenario, three friends are talking on the beach and as they watch, two young people nearby arguing catch their attention. Can they do anything about it?
Even distraction can work, Waldorf explained to the audience. The three friends approached the two youth, excited and exclaiming, “Wow, look at the northern lights. In Alaska!”
The argument stopped as the young people looked up.
“We talk directly about healthy relationships and making responsible decisions, in a way that is visual and easy for them to connect too,” Wylde said, speaking of their work peer-to-peer and in training sessions.
Prior to breaking into work groups, Haven House Director Lawmaster told the audience in the theater the discussion on the recent sexual assault has led to a lot of brainstorming on what adults can be doing to bring about lasting changes.
“We have constantly been receiving feedback about areas where you want change,” Lawmaster said. The three dialogue groups focused on: school policy, school-based prevention and education, and community prevention.
“People want to see change. This is the perfect time to ask ourselves what kind of a culture do we want? One of denial or being intolerant of sexual assault, substance abuse and child abuse?” Lawmaster said.
The Community Prevention work group discussed efforts already underway from the Homer Prevention Project. They learned about parenting classes and early childhood support that are in the community. But they also largely focused on discussing the Green Dot strategy and how to bring it to Homer.
As a result of the conversation, Haven House is working with the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the developers of Green Dot. CDVSA and the developers are going to come to Homer in mid-November to meet with some key partners in the community to discuss how to bring bystander intervention training to Homer.
School-based Prevention: This group brainstormed ideas of how to get education on healthy relationships and bystander intervention into the schools, starting at an early age and built into the system. Specific curricula were discussed, such as the 4th R, (respect), Green Dot, and Coaching Boys into Men.
They also discussed the use of peer education, to model what the PHAT Peer Educators (through Family Planning) are currently doing.
“The group discussed how to create a culture of support and respect among students from a very early age in the school system,” Lawmaster said. “As follow-up coaches are invited to attend an Alaska Coaching Boys Into Men training in January. Haven House, Homer High School, the school district and community partners will continue to dialogue about the 4th R. Green Dot will be explored by a group of dedicated community members in November. Information resulting from the group will be shared with the KPB School Board.”
School Policy: This group identified their desired impact as implementing school policies which support a culture of non-violence and zero tolerance for bullying at the school. This includes somehow supporting youth to give each other permission to stop bullying. They identified teacher, coach and staff trainings on bullying, including tangible skills, as an important first step.
“This needs to occur along with health education every year at the high school, and strengthening the sense of the community at the schools. Identified barriers include the ‘cloak of confidentiality’ that feels like it exists at the high school, where students don’t feel safe talking to adults about their issues, making offering adult help impossible, and the youth mentality that they will betray their friends or get in trouble if they ask for help,” Lawmaster said.
Youth Breakout: This small group of youth focused on what they would like to see in Homer that would make this community safer and more engaging for youth. The general consensus was that, while there are many activities available for teens, there aren’t any safe, sober, interesting places to just hang out and meet up with friends on evenings and the weekends.
The young people envisioned a community center that would have space for sports, arts, music, homework, tutoring, dance, games and other activities.
“Their ideas were creative, insightful and meaningful,” Lawmaster said. “We brainstormed existing strengths of the community which already support youth and also discussed barriers, including transportation, cost and accessing and targeting the youth who really need support. We also had time to talk about school dances and how to make them safer for everyone. The dynamic, role-playing PHAT peer educators suggested doing role plays for the whole school ahead of time to demonstrate safe and unsafe dancing and creating a culture that respects girls and women, and where young women feel confident to practice creative refusal skills.”
Haven House is scheduling a meeting for mid-November to explore bringing the Green Dot strategy to Homer.
“We hope that the community will continue to advocate for change through many avenues. We encourage the community to get engaged in the MAPP Initiative, the Homer Prevention Project, follow up meetings hosted by Haven House, or endeavors prompted by other groups or individuals,” Lawmaster said. “We also encourage folks to contact us and volunteer. It takes a whole community to cultivate respect and safety for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.”
More on Green Dot
In addition to the governor’s initiatives, there are state links to national programs for helping to break the cycle of violence. One is called the Green Dot, Homer is being looked at as a possible pilot sight. “We’ll be trained as trainers and then learn how to intervene in unsafe situations,” Lawmaster said.
Green Dot works like this: Think about a map of the community. Imagine there are red dots from each moment when something hurts someone – a hit, a slap, or cruel words. Too many red dots on the map means too many people are getting hurt. A green dot is action taken by a person to stop a red dot. When the map is more green then red, there is less violence and abuse in a community.
Comments are closed