Students’ Campaign Against Child Abuse Applauded
David Hennessey, Norwalk Citizen News,
hundred members of the Brien McMahon-based Senators Community Foundation hosted
Judith Kallen -- the newly appointed director of the Department of Children and
Families' regional office for
"Child abuse is manifested in many different ways across the country and many different ways across our community," she said. "It's just terrific that this issue is what this group is spending so much of its time on."
Kallen said from
the July of 2008 to June of 2009 time period alone, there were 633 reports of
child abuse or neglect in
Aarons, DCF program supervisor in
At the meeting, Kallen touched upon shaken baby syndrome, a disturbing form of child abuse where an abuser violently shakes an infant or small child, often causing permanent damage.
"The majority of these injuries are caused by the unrelated boyfriend of the mother," Kallen explained before going on to say that irreversible effects of SBS, like blindness and developmental retardation, can come about from the physical trauma imparted on a child when he or she is abused at a very young age.
Kallen told SCF members the heart-wrenching story of a young mother whose boyfriend abused her child by shaking it -- a story that hit particularly close to home for the students because of their young ages.
She also urged students to push out information about "Safe Haven" laws, which allow parents to leave their infants with safe, designated institutions in an effort to curb infanticide and abandonment.
"We don't believe it's [Safe Haven laws] well enough publicized for people to take advantage of it," she said. "This is another great issue for you guys to focus on."
"A lot of people say it's [these efforts] not going to help, but we're just trying to raise awareness," 11th grade SCF member Jakelina Hernandez said.
To draw attention to the alarming problem of child abuse, SCF members recently participated in a "Drop Dead Day".
"We had 150 people just drop dead on the lawn of City Hall," explained 11th grade SCF member Tyler Mills. "We had four people remain standing, and they represented the four children that die everyday from child abuse."
Eleventh-grade SCF member Molly Yordon said the group will hold silent vigils and "chalking" events throughout the year, in addition to sticking plastic cups in fences at Brien McMahon's homecoming game to spell out messages drawing awareness to child abuse.
Come later this fall, the group will also be conducting "stings" at local post offices to determine whether or not the offices are complying with child safety regulations for notes written by children to Santa Claus.“We're just trying to stay active," Hernandez said.
YWCA Kicks Off Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Debra Friedman, Greenwich Time,
(CYL’s body art photos are featured in the exhibit noted below)
Every October, advocates and victims come together to raise awareness about the increasingly prevalent issue of domestic violence.
It's a national campaign, but continues to affect many in town, which is why members of the community came to the YWCA of Greenwich for a candlelight vigil to remember victims and support survivors each year. Organizers of the vigil say their main mission is to get people to care about the cause not just in October, but throughout the entire year.
"We ask people to pay attention during this month," said Suzanne Adam, director of Domestic Abuse Services at the YWCA. "And then we ask, what are you doing during the other 11 months? We do events to energize the cause and jump-start our year-long campaign."
night, dozens of people gathered with candles as they listened to a domestic
violence survivor, Tiffany Shirley-Fontana, who escaped
Shirley-Fontana told the crowd how the YWCA was able to help her deal with the emotional scars from the abuse. Shirley-Fontana also said she learned how to stand up and fight for her own self worth through the harrowing ordeal.
"I believe we all have a fire that burns inside of us," said Shirley-Fontana. "A fire that was meant to leave an impression on this earth -- and nobody has the right to wash it away." The ceremony also recognized a volunteer at the YWCA who donates her time to help victims. "This is a group that feels very good for me to help," said Petit, who received the Purple Ribbon Award. "I usually feel that I get back way more than I give."
The vigil is just
one event held by the YWCA this month to draw awareness to the campaign. There
is also a photo exhibit, "Not Picture Perfect," on display at the
YWCA until Oct. 30. The work was created by students from
Molly Yordan, 16,
"The pictures really demonstrate the issue," said Yordan. "It hits home for some people."
17, said she hoped the exhibit would make victims more likely to come forward
and seek help. "We don't want people to keep it a secret," said
Gannu, a resident of
statistics, one in five teenagers in the
On Oct. 15, the YWCA is scheduled to hold a screening of a documentary that details how the play "Vagina Monologues" grew into the international "V-day" movement seeking to stop violence against women and girls.
Even as domestic violence is often swept under the rug, the FBI reports that a woman is battered every 15 seconds in the country. A staggering 61 percent of female homicide victims were the wives or intimate partners of their killers.
In town, domestic violence is the second most-investigated crime, police said. In fact, instances of domestic violence have grown so much that the department now designates a specialized domestic violence unit that helps victims get help and protection from their abusers.
The YWCA's domestic abuse services works with the police department and offers numerous free services to help victims such as emergency shelters, an emergency hot line, individual and group counseling, court advocacy and legal referrals. Last year alone, the group fielded more than 9,000 hot line calls.
The YWCA of Greenwich's domestic violence hot line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To reach the hot line, call 203-622-0003.
Upperclassmen Help Freshmen Find Their Way
by Lauren Mylo, The Hour,
The Peace Project, a group of students under the umbrella of BMHS's Center for Youth Leadership (CYL), hosts High School 101 in conjunction with the guidance office each year to help acclimate incoming freshmen and transfer students to their new school.
During the sessions, the students discuss academic expectations, social issues and their hopes and fears for the high school experience. Bob Kocienda from the CYL said the program is in its fifth year and usually about 75 percent of the approximately 400 incoming freshmen attend.
The orientation doesn't end when summer does though -- members of the Peace Project called FROGs (freshmen orientation guides) will be on hand Sept. 2 with the sole purpose of guiding the young students through their first day of high school.
Four upperclassmen led the orientation session and a tour through the building on Wednesday afternoon. They divided the approximately 20 incoming students into small groups and quizzed them on BMHS facts and rules like:
What color baseball hat can you wear in school? (none, they're forbidden), What percentage of the students are gay? (10 percent) and How many minutes do you have to get to the bus after the last bell of the day? (eight).
Sarah Porter, 16, is a member of the Peace Project, which also raises awareness about issues like dating violence, stalking, human trafficking and day laborers during the year.
Sarah said helping with the project is more meaningful to her this year because her sister will be a freshman. "When I was a freshman I had no idea what I was getting into in high school," she said. "The more people we can help make it easier for the better."
Karen Amaker, a BMHS guidance counselor who will have about 150 freshmen under her wing this fall, said she wanted to attend the sessions and help students however she can because entering high school "can be daunting."
She said the school began a ninth grade transition support program this year which she'll be a counselor for, and High School 101 is part of that. "I thought it was important for me to be a part of the beginning of the process," said Amaker. "We're going to go through it together."
Two sessions of High School 101 (which include sessions for parents) were held this week, and the final sessions will be held on August 11, 12 and 13. Families can call 203-296-2188 to reserve a spot or if they have questions.
Teens Express Themselves with Photography
by David Hennessey, Norwalk Citizen News
Members of the Brien McMahon High-based Center for Youth Leadership can often be seen and heard locally raising awareness about a number of social issues. Now they are letting their photographs do the talking.
Their array of body art photos is on display at the
Called "Not Picture Perfect," the seed for the exhibition was planted when members of the Center for Youth Leadership visited the
"Optimism" examined the idea of art as a form of activism, and explored ways in which art can be used as an agent of change as a vehicle of both criticism and transcendence. The exhibition featured work in a wide range of media that focused on the ideals of optimism and hope. The art works suggested that hope resides in the simple gesture, in the modest act of personal activism.
After one of the students gave Danielle Cavanna, director of education for the arts center, a glimpse of some of the body art photos the students from the organizations had already taken, a full-blown exhibit began to blossom.
"It was conceived by students," Cavanna said. "Their work was high-quality, accessible, raw everything that we are looking for in student artwork. These kids were directly involved in the process."
In conjunction with the arts center, Cavanna said the students began to develop "Not Picture Perfect," taking into account how their photography would fit into the gallery space. They were responsible for choosing the final 40 or so pieces that made the cut, along with designating the layout of those pieces throughout the gallery.
The exhibition, which debuted
According to a statement, Aho said, "These artists point out that the range of our associations with 'home' is as wide and varied as our own unique circumstances.
Through their work we are reminded that the notion of home is seldom a fixed idea. Instead, it is as conditional as our memory and vulnerable to change without notice." It's an imaginative contrast to "Not Picture Perfect," Cavanna explained, considering the harsh realities portrayed in some of the student photography.
"What makes the 'Not Picture Perfect' exhibit is that it compliments the 'HOME' exhibition so well. What's interesting is that the 'HOME' exhibition is a full-color, nostalgic view of the home. 'Not Picture Perfect' is not."
Stefania DiFortunato, a member of CYL and one of the student photographers, said the exhibit photos were chosen from 4 CDs full of about 60 total shots. "Most of the ones we chose were from this past year," she said. "When you see the pictures [in the HOME exhibit], it's like nothing bad could come under those roofs. We wanted to reach out and say not every home is like that. Not every home is picture perfect."
The April 3 opening went off without a hitch, with local officials including State Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and Ken Mysogland, area director of the Department of Children and Family's
"We picked the ones where the expressions were most powerful," said Lexi Damato, a CYL member and photographer. There are four walls in the 'Not Picture Perfect' exhibit, she said, with each wall drawing awareness to a different problem.
Damato added, "We just want to let everyone know that these issues are very serious. It just needs to be out there."
Terri Drew, director of the Stamford Youth Services Bureau, and a guest at the opening, said the project is powerful in its photographic message. "I think it's probably the most compelling thing they've done .You don't really have to use any words to describe it. The pictures say it all. It leaves you speechless.”