Rocky Fork Enterprise

Gahanna students to become peer mentors via Safe Dates

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Young ladies are learning how to recognize unhealthy relationships in a Safe Dates program being piloted in the Gahanna schools.

Thanks to a partnership between Columbus Jewish Family Services and the Gahanna Lincoln High School's Soroptimist Club, the 10-week program teaches students some skills to develop healthy dating relationships, including positive communication, anger management and conflict resolution.

It's sponsored through a grant from the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Foundation.

Shelly Igdaloff applied for a $1,800 grant through the GJEF last year to launch the program this fall at Gahanna Lincoln.

"I had become involved with Jewish Family Services," she said. "They're a community resource, not just for Jewish people. They do a lot of community outreach."

Initially, CJFS realized a need to educate teens about harmful and dangerous relationships. Discovering the research-based Safe Dates curriculum and targeting schools as the market, CJFS made a presentation to the foundation and received funding.

With the foundation grant, Lincoln teacher Marcie Aiello brought in education specialist Lisa Carroll to facilitate 10 one-hour after-school workshops. Fifty-eight girls from Lincoln's Soroptimist Club signed up to participate in Safe Dates.

Aiello advises the club, an all-girls group focusing on service for women and children.

Goals of the Safe Dates program include raising students' awareness of dating abuse, its causes and consequences. It's also a goal to equip students with the skills and resources to help themselves or friends if they're in an abusive dating relationship.

"So far, things have been going really well with the program," Aiello said. "The girls really benefit from the discussions and activities in learning about healthy relationships."

Igdaloff said Safe Dates is a peer-to-peer education program. After the girls complete the program, they become youth advocates and leaders within their school.

"We got it funded, and it's starting to catch on," she said. "It was brought into Reynoldsburg, and New Albany is very interested."

In addition to attending the workshops, participants design, develop and execute a service project to raise school and community awareness about healthy and abusive relationships.

Student Kyla Wagner said she's humbled to be a part of a program that helps raise awareness of such a serious issue in society.

"Many times, girls (or guys) feel embarrassed talking about their dating situations with adults," she said. "Peer educators are trained to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship and take action in any way needed."

The culminating event of Safe Dates is CJFS' annual Purple Teen Party, a fun event for girls throughout Franklin County that raises awareness and provides education about teen-dating violence. It's also a celebration to recognize graduates of the Safe Dates program. It's scheduled for 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, at the Columbus Hilton at Easton.

"It's a big production and fashion show where you commit to Safe Dates," Igdaloff said. "We expect 1,000 girls, mentors and mothers. It's the community end of it. Then you become an ambassador and peer educator."

Seventy girls will participate as teen models and peer educators. Participation in the event provides girls with a valuable opportunity to develop leadership skills and network with other girls, she said.

The Purple Teen Party is expected to represent about 54 schools from central Ohio.

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