HANCOCK COUNTY — During the past six years, Kelly Buzan has talked to thousands of teenagers across the county about the dangers of domestic and sexual violence. Now, she’s enlisting those students to take her teachings to the next level.
In addition to delivering educational programs to high school and middle school students, Buzan is recruiting students to form a youth council that will promote the efforts of Alternatives Inc., a multi-county nonprofit organization dedicated to combating domestic and sexual violence.
By getting students to engage with one another, Buzan, community outreach advocate for Alternatives Inc., hopes to generate more conversations, which she said is the first step to preventing issues from arising in the first place.
It’s not a question of whether domestic and sexual violence is happening in our communities, she said; it is an issue, but it’s one that can be reduced once it’s addressed.
“It’s something that you want to bring up early to change the mindset of the future adults who will make up our community,” Buzan said. “That’s something I tell the kids when I go talk to them at the schools, but it’s something that I need others to reinforce for it to be effective.”
Buzan said she hopes to recruit about 20 students for the youth council with representatives from each county high school. That group will meet regularly to come up with ideas for more programming or intervention at their buildings, then take ideas back to share with other students and administrators.
A meeting for those interested in serving on the youth council is scheduled for Oct. 29.
It’s an endeavor other nonprofits dealing with issues that confront teens have utilized successfully. Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse, for example, regularly meets with student representatives, who help guide the organization’s initiatives. The members of the youth council serve as the eyes and ears of the nonprofit, organizers say.
Informal conversations among students can be more productive than an adult addressing a classroom, said Lisa Hagan, assistant principal at Eastern Hancock High School and Middle School.
“Students know each other best,” said Hagan, who’s also a school safety specialist for the district. “Quite often, peers learn from other peers. It’s really important that they’re given a voice, so we can train them to recognize what the concerns are within the student population.”
Hagan said that in the past, when Buzan talked to classes at Eastern Hancock High School, the conversations revealed underlying problems that students are experiencing at home.
“Nobody goes into a relationship wanting it to become unhealthy or abusive, so hearing about these issues ahead of time could help them recognize what behavior is acceptable and what’s not,” she said.
Emily Logan, a health teacher at Greenfield-Central High School, said it’s important for students to look for subtle signs of unhealthy relationships, which can often signify future problems.
Buzan’s presentations, which include the legal definition of consent and the ramifications of breaking the law, have been well received by students, who often have lots of questions in response, Logan said.
“The kids’ eyes are usually huge,” she said. “It’s something many of them don’t know much about, but they always want to hear more about. I think a youth council would work out really well.”
A call-out meeting for individuals interested in serving on the youth council is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at The Landing, 18 W. South St. For more information, visit alternativesdv.org, or call Kelly Buzan at 317-477-8777.