Category Archives: teens making a difference

The Bruises and Kisses Our Bodies Don’t Show: ACT Mannequin Art Project on Teen Dating Violence Prevention

By Kathleen Wong, 18, California

Art created by ACT Against Teen Dating Violence

Advocating Change Together (ACT) is a peer health advocacy program at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County, California. ACT has chosen to advocate for the cause of teen dating violence prevention because this is an issue that seriously impacts our communities and youth.

Teen dating violence is defined as a pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, perpetrated by a partner to gain and maintain power and control over another. Statistics reveal that at least one in three high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship.

Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of 15–44. Most people stay in their violent relationships—in part because victims usually blame themselves for causing the violence.

The purpose of ACT is: (1) to allow high school girls to be involved in and advocate for issues affecting women/girls in the community; (2) to reduce the violence in our communities; (3) to encourage youth to have healthy relationships that build a sense of well-being, (4) to increase awareness of the health issues stemming from dating violence; (5) to raise community awareness of available resources; and (6) to create systemic change in San Leandro and Oakland that will benefit present and future generations.

The ACT program consists of groups in San Leandro and Oakland. Participants are first educated about how to be advocates and they learn about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. ACT creates system change by recommending policy, based on our own research analysis, which is then presented to policymakers such as the San Leandro City Council and school administrators. Every month, ACT participants are required to educate at least four peers to enlighten them about the problems of teen dating violence and the benefits of having healthy relationships. In addition, ACT does advocacy, runs workshops, conducts research, and outreaches through social media to local high schools to educate and prevent teen dating violence in the community. Topics addressed include violence, misconceptions of rape, the cycle of abuse, power, and control, being an ally, setting boundaries, and many others.

Recently ACT participants used mannequins as a canvas to illustrate the effects of healthy and unhealthy relationships on our emotional, physical, and sexual health.  A division on the body of the mannequin indicates the contrasting effects of violent and nonviolent relationships on the body. Half of each mannequin shows the positive benefits of a nonviolent and respectful relationship characterized by equality; there are images of hearts and happiness, along with words of endearment on this part of the collage. The unhealthy sides of the mannequins have extensive imagery of cuts, wounds, and bruises, in addition to multiple insults and offensive words. One mannequin has a fencing—like the fencing that surrounds many homes—on the side of healthy imagery of a relationship—to convey the message that everything may seem all peachy and lovey-dovey on the outside, but behind closed doors, that is where the violence occurs.

All of these mannequins illustrate that teen dating violence is not only physical and sexual, but also emotional and mental, and likely to have lasting effects on the victims’ lives.  For example, dating violence can foster low self-esteem, and make its victims accustomed to violent partners and to being treated as unequal and unworthy.

My experience in ACT has been life changing. ACT has helped me grow as a person.  I’ve learned how to network. I have become more confident and less shy. And I have improved my public speaking skills. Overall, I’m becoming smart, strong, and bold! Also, being a part of ACT has changed my perspective on how I look at my community. Because of ACT, I am more aware of what goes on in my community. Before, I never would’ve thought that I could actually make a difference in helping my community. But now, thanks to ACT, I am very determined and passionate about doing whatever I can to make positive changes for my community.

My hope for ACT is that the program will continue as long as possible because it sends such a powerful and positive message to young people that we can advocate for change by working together. I would also like to see ACT become more involved in the community, which has started happening. ACT girls have been attending community meetings to learn more about violence prevention and ways to improve public education on this topic.  I hope this trend will continue and we will get even more involved in the community. One day, I hope the community will know the value of what we do. I hope the community already knows ACT is working to make improvements and that we care!

You can learn more about ACT’s move against teen dating violence by following ACT on Girls IncACT.tumblr.com, GirlsIncACT on Twitter, and by liking Advocating Change Together Girls Inc. of Alameda County on Facebook.

For more information on healthy dating relationships, see the Teen Voices article in the 2012 Teen Focus section of the online Boston Parents Paper, pages 6-8 at:  http://bostonparentspaper.digitalparenthood.com/DigitalAnywhere/viewer.aspx?id=8&pageId=1

There are other organziations that can help too:

Love is Respect

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Circle of Six

We happen to know of two Jewish organizations that offer fantastic teen dating violence prevention programs and curriculum,  Shalom Bayit in Oakland, California has Love Shouldn’t Hurt  and Jewish Women International has a prevention program for girls called Strong Girls and one for boys called Good Guys.

Mentoring at Teen Voices Changed My Life

By Sarah Binning
Originally published on Over My Shoulder Foundation’s blog. Additions made 7-23-12

The spring of 2009, I found myself in a whirlwind. My junior year of college was coming to a close, and the illusive senior year was now just months away. People either batted their sympathetically eyes at me while wishing me luck during my final year, or they annoyingly asked, “So what are you going to do with your life?” Senior year meant it was time to start thinking of the future.

I stared at myself in the mirror as I asked, “What job would truly make you happy?” The answer came easily: writing, editing, or working for a magazine. The next questions were a little more challenging: “How are you going to reach this goal? Where do you need to be?”

Could I, country-bumpkin Sarah, leave the safe arms of Ohio? Did I have what it takes to survive life in the city? Live in a place where the sounds of crickets’ chirping was replaced by cars and trains?

That’s when I found Teen Voices, an organization that allowed me to not only to write and edit, but to combine my love for writing with my feminist voice. This magazine is creating social change through media. And not just with any media: girl-generated media. Suddenly, the idea of moving to a city wasn’t quite so scary. I packed up my bags, loaded the car, and headed to Boston. But what I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t return home the same person.

Teen Voices changed my life. More specifically, my mentees changed my life. While I truly loved every aspect of my internship, my favorite part was mentoring two fabulous teens, Anna-Cat and Malisa, through the process of writing a magazine feature article. Working with young women who have so much creativity, passion, and love to offer the world was truly inspiring.

Mentoring is more than just investing time in someone else’s life. Mentoring is more than just shaping tomorrow’s leaders. Mentoring is a learning opportunity that allows you to grow in ways you never dreamed possible. I mentor because the teen editors at Teen Voices have so much to teach me. And yeah, I’m sure that I’ve taught them some things along the way (or at least I hope I did!), but these girls challenged me to learn new things.

In just six short weeks, here are some things my mentees taught me:

  1. How to walk from The Commons to Faneuil Hall without following the Freedom Trail. When I first moved here, I had no idea how to get anywhere. The Freedom Trail and T stations were the only ways I knew how to find places. If it wasn’t off one of those lines, forget it. Not happening. The girls challenged me to be more adventurous and explore Boston.
  2. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. I remember the time I treated my mentees to ice cream. Balancing my cone while trying to find my wallet, plus the summer heat, was just more than I could handle. My ice cream fell onto my foot and down inside my flats. I was so embarrassed! But as the girls tried to help me clean the stickiness off my foot, all we could do was laugh.
  3. The simple things are what matter most. Say, “Thank you.” Give credit wherever credit is due. Let those you care about know how you feel. Take 15 minutes to ask how their day is going. It’s important to listen and recognize your mentee outside of the realm of work/business. This advice may seem like a no-brainer. But sometimes people just get too busy, or too caught up in their own world, or the project at hand, to remember the simple things.
  4. There’s a difference between having a job you like and a job you love. I loved my time here at Teen Voices so much that I came back as an AmeriCorps VISTA to serve at Teen Voices. And since then, I’ve been hired on as staff. Seriously, I love my job! I want to go to work almost each and every day. I know the articles the teen editors are writing are making an impact on people’s lives. I know that their work, and inherently my work, is worthwhile!

To learn more about Teen Voices, please visit www.teenvoices.com

But Teen Voices needs your help. Because of a recent decrease in funding, we’re at a crisis. We must raise $300,000 by August 1. Yes, it’s that bad.

Here’s how you can help:

Make a donation. $5, $50, or $5000—every donation brings us closer. You can send a safe and secure contribution through this PayPal link.

Or mail a check to:

Teen Voices
80 Summer St, Suite 400
Boston MA 02110

We need your donations by August 1!

Copy and Paste our call to action on your own blog. Help us spread the word about our program, publication, and fundraising efforts.

Vote for Healthy: School Lunch Campaign

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

A lot of attention in the media is currently focused on the importance of healthy food for children and adolescents. Coverage ranges from Michelle Obama’s presidential initiative to lower childhood obesity in the nation from a staggering 20 percent to just 5 percent by 2030, to more local initiatives with new school regulations for serving healthier food. Since teens spend a great deal of time at school, healthier food in the cafeteria is an important change.

According to Sociedad Latina, a Boston-based organization working with Latino youth and families to end destructive cycles of poverty, health inequities, and lack of educational and professional opportunities among the Latino community, there is definitely much left to be desired in the average school cafeteria. For example, a recent crackdown in Cambridge Massachusetts for lax inspections in public school cafeterias yielded numerous health code violations, including animal droppings around the storage rooms of a cafeteria and a school freezer that was rusted and rotting.

While this situation may be extreme, it’s very common for the food offered in school cafeterias to be less than ideal in terms of being healthy. In response, youth activists at Sociedad Latina have taken on this issue and they are working to create healthier food options in school cafeterias in Boston public schools.  Vickie Miranda and Achly Esparra are two teen representatives for Sociedad’s School Lunch Campaign. According to Miranda, the School Lunch Campaign was launched with a mission focused on “eating healthy in schools because that’s where we spend most of our time, besides home. If we don’t eat [at school], we don’t have the energy to learn.”

Last year’s controversial finding by councilor-at-large John R. Connolly, that several Boston public schools had been storing foods past their expiration date,and serving them to students, was one of the catalysts that initially drove the Campaign.

Both Miranda and Vickie believe that most Boston Public School (BPS) students don’t even eat school lunch. They explained: “Some students skip lunch altogether and some leave school to go to Burger King or Subway to get food, and then come back to school.” Either way, they aren’t getting a good lunch.

Esparra’s role as a dancer is one of the reasons she feels that working on the Campaign is incredibly important. “I got involved because of my dancing. I wanted to learn more about eating healthy and all things that involve healthy habits…especially eating, because I love food!” Miranda said: “I got involved because I eat school lunch. I eat at school because I know I won’t be able to eat anything else during school hours. And for me, I want to eat healthy. And if the food at school isn’t healthy, meaning that the food that I eat most of the time isn’t healthy, then I’m not healthy.”

The girls would like to see more healthy and great-tasting foods in their cafeteria. Esparra noted that they “want healthy food that tastes good, not just healthy food that tastes awful.”  Miranda added, ”In my school we have fruit, such as oranges and apples, but I would prefer more variety of fruit. Like at one point we had grapes, but then they disappeared.”

You may wonder how a teen-led campaign facilitated change in public schools. First, the teens started talking about what they wanted to change, and how they thought they could make that change. From there, Esparra and Miranda passed out 300 surveys at schools and in the community that asked students directly what kind of food and changes they would like to see in their cafeterias.  More than 70 percent of the respondents were in favor of establishing a salad/fruit bar in their school. Esparra and Miranda, alongside their peers, then began having conversations with their school cafeteria managers and principals to build support. In the early fall, they presented their idea to expand the salad bars in high schools to the director of the food and nutrition services.

The Campaign has been very successful. It has established salad bars in two new high schools, with more planned for the future.  In fact, Miranda and Esparra have secured a commitment from the BPS director of food and nutrition services to establish salad bars in all BPS high schools.  Miranda believes that they are off to a good start, but said:  “There are millions of others schools, millions of other students, who are still not eating healthy, not eating while at school, or leaving school to eat.  It is really important to try to get healthy foods and to try and keep students in school and keep them awake in classes.” In addition, Esparra would like to more see more food prepared in the cafeteria, as opposed to microwave meals, because she believes that “cooking real food is also part of eating healthy.”

Miranda and Esparra attribute much of the success of the School Lunch Campaign to Sociedad Latina’s genuine concern for the health of young people.  And they feel it’s important for girls to be activists in their own communities because “it shows that we’re trying to do something—we’re trying to make a change [for the better.] When people see that a girl is doing something about [a problem], it makes them think that at least someone cares about what’s going on in the community.”

Miranda complemented the thought: “Since we’re teenagers, people think that we don’t take anything seriously.” Miranda often sees the ‘she’s-not-gonna-take-this-job-seriously-because-she’s-a-teenager’ mentality. She stated: “But then, people see what we do here and they see how we take it seriously, so they see that the stereotypes aren’t correct.”

Sociedad staff member Melissa Luna reflected:  “I think it’s very important for adults to act as allies for our young women and encourage their leadership and participation.  In most schools, students and their abilities are taken for granted.  Every youth has the potential to become a leader and make their school a better place.  These young women have take on this charge and created a positive change for both themselves and their peers.”

Esparra advises: If you want to inspire change in your own community, whether it’s in your school cafeteria or elsewhere, “find an interest…My interest is me; I want to be healthy; I want to be fit. I think that finding motivation is the first move, the first step that you need to take to move forward.”

So do some reflective thinking, girls, and decide what you want to change in your community, then figure out your first step.  By moving one step at a time, in collaboration with others, you too can change the negative stereotypes of teens—and create positive change in your community.  Go to it!

For more information on efforts to increase healthy lunches in schools, see “The Secret Life of Lunch: Teen Voices Goes Beyond the Mystery Meat” in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of the Teen Voices print magazine (pp. 19-21).

For more information on Sociedad Latina and their School Lunch Campaign, see: http://sociedadlatinaschoollunch.blogspot.com/p/sociedad-latina-school-lunch-goals.html

Celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8!

By Liz Peters, Editorial Intern

Girls celebrate all sorts of holidays: Thanksgiving, Independence Day, their birthdays and those of their friends, maybe even Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza. But how often do you celebrate being female? International Women’s Day gives you the chance to scream, shout, and make merry over your womanhood!

Designed to connect girls and inspire futures, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909, driven by women taking a stand against their discrimination the year before. In inspiring futures, let’s take a look to see where we have been in the past. In 1908, 15,000 women stormed the streets of New York City, demanding shorter hours and better pay for their work, as well as the right to vote. One hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote. They were not allowed to serve in the military; they were banned from many sports and jobs; they were not allowed to have abortions. I don’t even think they had the freedom to wear pants!

Today, all of that and more is possible.

We’ve come pretty far, ladies, but there is still more to conquer. And progress hasn’t come without a fight.  Recently, for example, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer charity, pulled their funding from Planned Parenthood, a sexual health and reproduction organization, because of various concerns. In 2008 alone, Planned Parenthood provided nearly 3 million people with health services, some, but not all, related to reproduction. Not only does Planned Parenthood provide medical services, it provides knowledge. As the nation’s largest sex educator, the organization brings issues and methods of contraception, family planning and sexual diseases to light, preparing women, younger and older, for anything that may come their way. Many women don’t have access to affordable sexual and health care, except through Planned Parenthood. In offering breast cancer screenings, Planned Parenthood examines the full health of a woman, possibly catching early signs of cancer and saving lives, at a minimum, encouraging women to get checked regularly.

It’s no wonder that the backlash to pulling funding was so strong. After facing heavy criticism, displayed on several social media sites, the Susan G. Komen Foundation listened to the concerns of the public and reversed its initial decision a mere three days after pulling its funds. They also offered an apology. But the fact that this incident happened at all is scary, and symbolic of how disturbingly women are positioned in this society. Can you imagine funding for men’s prostate cancer screening being pulled without warning?? It’s something to think about.

So despite many successes, the reality today is that women are still outnumbered in politics and the workplace, still receiving unequal pay to their male counterparts [check out our blog post on the Paycheck Fairness Act], still facing a glass ceiling in many fields. It’s clear that we still live in a patriarchy, where men hold the majority of the power. It’s time to even things out.

Under-represented and often misrepresented, women in today’s society need to jump the hurdles that the women of the past could not. It’s a lot of responsibility, but we can handle it. We’re up for the fight. Remember where we were 100 years ago? With your help, just imagine where we’ll be 100 years from now!

How You Can Join the Fight for Women

  •  Set goals and see them through
  • Get involved with your school’s student government
  • Find yourself an afterschool job
  • Play a sport traditionally viewed as for “the guys”
  • Volunteer at an organization focused on empowering girls and/or women
  • Investigate, question, and stay informed on issues surrounding women today

Lastly, on March 8, get together with your girls and celebrate being you—an empowered, intelligent, beautiful girl!  Happy International Women’s Day!

Logo courtesy of International Women’s Day

Valentine’s Day: It’s Not Just for Couples!

By Raven Heroux, Editorial Intern

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and you know what that means: advertising overload for chocolate, heart-wielding teddy bears, and roses. While you may be stocking up on Valentine’s cards, candies, and red blouses, it’s important to remember what love is really all about!

Love isn’t just about finding your soul mate; it’s about taking the time to speak, listen, and care about those around you and share in that mutual caring and trust. Pay attention to the feelings and actions of not only your friends, but also yourself. Valentine’s Day can be a great way to celebrate life, love, and all the important people around you.

This month pay attention to ALL your loved ones: family, friends, crushes, and yourself.  Here are some ways you can show your love:

  • February 13-19 is Random Acts of Kindness Week Pay for the person behind you in line at Starbucks, babysit for free, or take all the change you can find in your house (under sofa cushions, behind your bureau, and in the bottom of your purse are hotspots) and give it to a homeless person down the street!
  • Write Love on Her Arms! The World Health Organization reports that one million people die every year from suicide. Participate in To Write Love On Her Arms to spread awareness and support those individuals struggling with depression, self-injury, and suicide.
  • Attend a local performance of The Vagina Monologues in support of V-Day, the global movement toward ending violence against women and girls.
  • Volunteer! Go to a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, a non-profit organization, or an after school program for kids.
  • Make dinner or dessert with friends or family. Working together to make a masterpiece dish (or disaster!) is a great way to bond, laugh, and learn the art of cooking or baking with the people you love.
  • Have a sleepover with your closest friends! Stay away from the love-obsessed media and get artsy instead. Teen Voices’ Artist of the Month contest is happening right now and we want your art.  Enter for a chance to win a full-scholarship to a summer art program in Boston! So grab your friends, paint, charcoal, pencils, a camera, or whatever you desire, and get creative!

Just remember that Valentine’s Day isn’t about who is dating whom; it’s about loving yourself and others!

Have great Valentine’s Day plans? Leave a comment below and share it with our other readers!

Scholarships, Adventures, and Coastal Studies

Guest post by Coastal Studies for Girls

Photos courtesy of Coastal Studies for Girls

Summer is winding down and there’s a nip in the air at dawn.  For most of us, the coming of fall means the heading back to school and restarting familiar routines.  Wake up, grab your backpack, go to school, take a test, write an essay, stare at the clock, and wait for the final bell. Repeat Monday through Friday.

Fall approaching may feel like the end of adventure after a summer of fun and freedom.  Or maybe you’ve worked really hard all summer and you are wishing you’d had more time for fun.  But what if you could do something really amazing and unusual for school this year?

Do you have a love for learning and discovery, an adventurous spirit, and a desire to challenge yourself?  If so, you may be a Coastal Studies girl.

Coastal Studies for Girls (CSG) is the country’s first residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls.  Located in Freeport, Maine, students from public, independent and home-schooled backgrounds from all over the U.S. spend a semester at this unique residential program.  CSG features a marine science and leadership curriculum, while also offering classes in the core subjects of English, math, history and foreign language.

CSG has an unexpected opening for their Fall 2011 semester starting August 28 through December 17, 2011.  A full scholarship is available for this life-changing opportunity. Whether exploring the inlets and islands in kayaks, studying the rich natural history of Maine, or researching tide pools, CSG is for the adventure seeking and intellectually curious.

Still not sure if CSG is for you? Here’s what one recent student said about her experience, “Being part of Coastal Studies for Girls allowed me to reflect on who I am, what I value, and what direction I want to take in life. I think in new ways and push my comfort zone to its very limit knowing that it is even ok to make mistakes.  I’ve learned about my own self-reliance and confidence, and it has given me a better sense of community. Living with other girls has shown me the value of respect, leadership, kind speech and other values that are necessary for living together.”

Any 10th grade girl interested in applying must contact Contact Tara Treichel, education director, at 207-865-9700 or tara@coastalstudiesforgirls.org as soon as possible. You could be off on this exciting adventure in just 2 weeks!!  For more application information: click here!

Know Your Rights on Cyberbullying

By Ashley Morris and Jessica Moore

As a recent spate of teen suicides so sadly proves, American teens are locked in a bullying crisis. Do you know your legal rights if you’re being bullied?

In a state with a strong law against bullying, such as Massachusetts, bullying includes, “acts or threats conducted by any device that transfers signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo-electronic or photo-optical system.” This means cyberbullying is a crime and is punishable by fines and imprisonment.  Bullypolice.org offers a full explanation of each state’s laws on bullying and indicates whether each state considers cyberbullying communication a criminal offense.

The National Crime Prevention Council notes that teens believe cyberbullies find their actions funny, don’t think their bullying is a big deal, and don’t worry about the consequences. With cyberbullying at the root of a spate of teen suicides, teens need to know that these points are disastrously false.

Cyberbullying: What you need to know

  • If someone is cyberbullying you on a social network or website, you have the right to report them. Wiredsafety.org provides a cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and harassment  report form to help stop online bullying.
  • Find out about your school’s legal authority.  It can be difficult for schools to discipline bullying that occurs off school grounds. StopCyberbullying.org suggests working to see if a provision can be added to your school’s policies if there are strict on-campus discipline laws.
  • Get familiar with IP addresses. An IP address is a number that identifies a computer on the internet and can be used to locate and prove an individual is bullying you. For more information on IP tracking, go to StopCyberbullying.org.
  • Saving evidence of your bully’s online threats is important; Internet Service Providers often discard online information that could incriminate an online perpetrator (such as online chat communication).

What you can do to delete cyberbullying

The National Crime Prevention Council offers these guidelines for preventing cyberbullying:

  • Refuse to pass along cyberbullying messages
  • Tell friends to stop cyberbullying
  • Block communication with cyberbullies
  • Report cyberbullying to a trusted adult

In August, New York passed a new anti-bullying law, the Dignity for All Students Act, which will help the state move toward a school environment free of discrimination and bullying. This is a big step for New York, but there are still states that have little or no legal authority against bullying (Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota).  Every effort makes a difference, so make sure you write to your state and local senators to push for anti-bullying laws in these states.

Do your part to prevent bullying before this crisis becomes even more widespread.