Nearly a thousand Chicagoland high school athletes participated in a media campaign launched Friday to tell people about violence in teen relationships.
To mark National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the teens donated $1,000 and more than 1,000 items, ranging from board games to art supplies, to help victims in counseling, according to Joe Trost, spokesman for the non-profit Buddy’s Helpers. These donations went to Between Friends, a non-profit Chicago group that provides counseling and resources to domestic violence victims.
The athletes also recorded public-service announcements for social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The campaign is presented by Buddy’s Helpers, a non-profit organization, working with the PepsiCo Showdown, the nation’s largest high school soccer tournament. Buddy’s Helpers uses players from PepsiCo as part of its “Making A Difference On AND Off The Field” campaign, a community service program that takes on a different cause each month.
Games and art supplies are used during counseling sessions to help build a relationship between counselors and victims, said Colleen Norton, director of programs at Between Friends. She said the teens’ efforts will go a long way.
One of the teens featured in the public-service announcements is Emily Graham, a senior at Riverside Brookfield High School. She said she and her teammates wanted more people to know about teen dating violence, an issue she called stigmatized.
“A lot of people are worried about saying the wrong thing and ruining someone’s reputation so it’s like they might not feel comfortable stepping forward and saying, ‘This is happening to me’ [because] they don’t know for sure if it’s bad, necessarily,” the 17-year-old said. “I think there’s just a fear surrounding it. So it’s mostly silence around the topic and then when it comes out it’s usually too late for us to help.”
The Centers for Disease Control, in a 2016 fact sheet, said 21 percent of female high school students who dated and 10 percent of male high school students who dated had experienced physical and/or sexual dating violence.
Youth victims are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, engage in behaviors such as drug use or display antisocial tendencies and consider suicide, according to the CDC.
Norton said youth face additional obstacles getting help from dating violence, such as needing a legal adult to help them bring their case to court for an order of protection.
“I think all too often they’re not taken seriously… a lot of times what they’ve experienced has kind of been brushed off because they are a teenager,” Norton said. “They’re reluctant to reach out for support from adults and so that’s clearly a challenge because they don’t necessarily have access to everything, all the resources, if they don’t have an adult to support them.”
Trost said 176 private and public schools in the area participated in the campaign. Past campaigns include a partnership with Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks charity in December in which thousands of toys were collected for charity, according to Trost. In September, National Suicide Prevention Month, Buddy’s Helpers collected and donated jackets.
Dating violence was a subject the teens could relate to.
“It’s kind of a taboo subject … but our goal is to put this out there and create a conversation,” Trost said.
Freshman Jackson Godfrey, whose St. Edward Central Catholic High School team won the PepsiCo Showdown championship in September, also participated in the campaign. He said people need to be more aware this is a problem for teens. It’s important he said, that “teens are happy in their relationships and that … abuse and things like that … don’t happen — because, I mean, being a teen, a lot goes on.”
Alvaro Perez, who’s in his 23rd year of coaching and teaching at George Washington High School, said participating in Buddy’s Helpers lets his team meet other students, which is important, since Washington High School is more isolated in Chicago’s East Side neighborhood. He said he thinks adults should encourage students to lead successful lives rather than just winning tournaments.
“It’s awesome competing in the field, but it’s much more awesome when you compete in life and just win in life,” Perez said. “And that is going to college one day, you know, get a degree then hopefully … have a much better quality of life because of it.”