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Domestic Violence Solutions Showcases Finalists in ‘What Is Love?’ Teen Poster Contest

Contest is one in a series of year-round programs in Santa Barbara to increase awareness of dating violence

It was standing room only at the Domestic Violence Solutions for Santa Barbara CountyWhat Is Love?” teen poster contest reception held Feb. 9 in the Faulkner Gallery of the Santa Barbara Central Library, where 26 local high school students were honored for their imaginative and powerful posters depicting the perils of teen dating violence.

“This night is for you guys, and I want to honor you tonight because your words and images are bringing attention to a silent epidemic that we have here in our city — teen dating violence,” said Christy Haynes, director of Teen Programs for DVS.

The secret is out: Teen dating violence is affecting a large number of youths in Santa Barbara County with roughly one in three teens reporting abuse experiences in a dating relationship. Yet most teens fail to report the abuse to anyone.

“I know a lot of young women who have been involved in domestic violence relationships, and it breaks my heart because these are really intelligent, beautiful and lovely young women and they don’t know what domestic violence is,” said Claudette Roehring, co-president of the DVS Board of Directors.

The “What Is Love” poster contest is one in a series of DVS Teen Services Programs offered year-round in Santa Barbara to increase awareness of teen violence and educate the community’s youth about the importance of positive, supportive and healthy relationships.

Domestic Violence Solutions works in collaboration with civic organizations and sponsors to endorse programs that provide classroom presentations, peer education and public-service announcements, as well as anger management, communication and self-esteem counseling referrals.

The nonprofit organization has been addressing teen dating violence countywide for more than three decades and launched the “What Is Love” teen poster contest in 2011, raising public awareness surrounding the often shameful and highly shunned topic among local teens.

“Last year’s poster featuring the winning design was distributed throughout Santa Barbara County, and we saw a 300 percent increase of teens calling the confidential hotline, ” Haynes said.

Moreover, the teen poster contest has grown in popularity, and this year 144 students from Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara high schools submitted entries.

Returning judges and local artists Nancy Gifford, Dorothy Dearman, Jane Litchfield and Heather Tanger-Black of Tanger Designs faced the difficult task of selecting 26 finalists, including first and second place with two third-place winners. DVS also unveiled the Teen Choice Award, in which teens voted for their favorite poster.

“The kids are amazing artists who obviously have a real understanding of the abuse issue and the original thoughts they put into it,” Dearman said. “But the last five contestants really stood out.”

The atmosphere was lively as bouts of laughter and heightened conversation emerged over a roar of pop music bursting from speakers positioned around the room. The large crowd of admirers and supporters helped themselves to cool beverages and a tasty array of appetizers while surveying the 26 finalist posters.

Annette Cordero, a Santa Barbara school board member and an English professor at SBCC, said she was extremely proud of the students and overwhelmed by the level of talent represented in the artwork.

“Each piece is a tribute to their understanding of the issue,” she said. “It comes out so clearly in the posters that they’ve created. Because when young people speak about it, it resonates much more with their peers than when they’re simply hearing it from adults.”

Next, Haynes began the presentation by graciously welcoming the attendees and asked the 26 finalists, split evenly by gender, to raise their hands.

“I know that the best way to bring awareness to this issue is for you kids to get involved and for you to figure out what words and images will bring light to this topic,” she said.

Growing up around domestic violence, Haynes learned the importance of balancing what can be amazing about love and helping teens identify the healthy things about love, too. Equally important is awareness of what is unhealthy about love so that when it starts at the beginning the signs can be identified.

Additionally, the “What Is Love?” program works with teens at junior high schools, community partners, and probation and juvenile halls in an effort to stop the cycle of teen violence.

“Pretty much everywhere that kids are, we want to be,” Haynes said. “And we do that through the poster contest and in assembly format where we tell a survivor story and with PSAs.”

After a round of applause, Haynes asked Jane Lee, the youth outreach and teen services coordinator for the library’s Teen Outreach Center, to the podium, where Lee’s soft-spoken tone addressed the crowd.

Lee noted that the library offers a variety of educational resources, including traditional books, e-books, a research database and an online scholarship search engine that are available to the entire community as well as the teen population.

“We encourage all teens and parents to use these resources,” Lee said.

She also asked students to sign up for a special Valentine’s Day raffle and a chance to win a $60 gift certificate for dinner at Aldo’s. Entries would also be notified by e-mail for future teen events at the library. Additional information is available by calling Lee at 805.564.5646.

Later, a group of spirited and confident teens from Los Prietos Boys Camp and Boys Academy of Santa Barbara County participated in the ToastMasters Soldiers Leadership Program, displaying polished communication skills and sharing an insightful love poem specially written for the occasion titled “Thug Love.”

“When I first saw you I couldn’t explain how I felt, and when you begin to speak my heart begins to melt, and when you flashed that beautiful smile of yours and I seen your dimples it made life seem so simple,” gushed 15-year-old Josue, a proud ToastMasters Soldier.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider followed and breezed to the podium bright-eyed and smiling broadly.

“This is a great event that exemplifies how important it is to spread the message about love as opposed to always talking about hate and trying to find a way to stop the violence whenever possible, and to do it through art that can reach people in a way that sometimes words cannot,” Schneider said. “Sometimes art can really transcend the words, and I’m really proud of the kids in our community.”

A hush fell over the room as Schneider was set to announce the 2012 “What Is Love?” poster contest winners.

The Teens Choice Award and a $75 cash prize were presented to Chase Jarosz, a junior at Santa Barbara High. Claire Lowe, also a junior at Santa Barbara High, shared third-place honors and $75 each with Veronika Jacinto, a freshman at San Marcos High. Cassandra Bustos, a junior at Santa Barbara High, received second place and a $100 cash prize.

Alec Larson, a junior at Santa Barbara High, was named the first-place winner and received a $250 cash prize, with the judges selecting Larson’s poster for its simplicity and gender-neutral sensibility. Even though a majority of young women are often the primary victims of abuse in relationships, young men are also susceptible but are less inclined to speak out or ask for help.

“I’m really excited and blown away that I won the poster contest,” Larson said. “I went for a simple design on my poster and it took me to first place. I did it in Photoshop and came up with a quick little slogan in my mind. I was just trying to show the loneliness that girls feel and sometimes a lot of people aren’t there to support them when they’re going through this. So it’s really nice to raise awareness of this subject.”

As the event began to wind down, Hillary Blackerby, a senior field representative in the Santa Barbara County office of Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, presented the 26 finalists with certificates of recognition from the Assembly along with a copy of the winning poster and a black T-shirt printed with bold red letters showcasing the winning slogan, “Love Shouldn’t Hurt.”

Two-thousand copies of the poster will be displayed throughout Santa Barbara County, and 26 poster designs will be featured at the Santa Barbara Central Library’s Teen Corner through February in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

“Its always more uncomfortable when issues are hidden and held in secret, and I think Domestic Violence Solutions has helped by bringing the truth out into the open by allowing students a space that is safe to discuss and share their experiences,” Cordero said. “That allows other young people to know they’re not alone and it’s not just them, and that there is help available for them in community.”

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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