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Students 'Raise SUM Awareness' of violence and abuse

Raise SUM Awareness walkers hit the streets of Tilton and Northfield last Sat. to bring attention to relationship abuse and violence. The group donated the funds raised to New Beginnings and the Rape and Domestic Violence Crisis Center. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
June 03, 2009
NORTHFIELD — A group of Winnisquam Regional High School sophomores are turning a negative into a positive.

Dealing with either troubles in their own lives, or seeing friends struggle with rape, domestic violence or abusive dating relationships, they decided to work together to overcome these troubling experiences. "Speak yoUr Mind" was started a few months ago by Audrianna Mekula when she realized how many people she knew had endured such pain in their lives.

"I wanted to bring some support and awareness to people," she said. "I know a lot of people who were sexually assaulted."

It is a tough topic to hear from girls their age. The reality is that such violence occurs far too often however, and these young ladies want to make people aware of the subject. They want to educate people on the warning signs of an abusive relationships and how to avoid them. Most of all, they want those who have endured such experiences to know someone cares.

"I really love helping people," said 16-year old Olivia Santosuosso. "I just want to help those who have been through something like this."

Mekula got the idea for the group from Dr. Mark Dotter, Crisis Counselor for the high school. Health teacher Alison Marshall agreed to be their faculty advisor and SUM was born. The students meet weekly to discuss experiences, recognition of abuse and ways to help friends and loved ones who have experienced such violence.

Marshall credited New Beginnings as being instrumental in assisting the group, saying, "They have been such great role models for the guys and girls in SUM. They've done a wonderful job of bringing the community into the school."

On Saturday the group gathered at the Pines Community Center in Northfield where they held their Raise SUM Awareness Walk to bring these issues to the forefront.

"We thought about it for awhile," said SUM member Julia Kehr. "They hold walk-a-thons for breast cancer so we thought why not hold one for this?"

Teaming up with New Beginnings Women's Crisis Center and the Rape and Domestic Violence Crisis Center, SUM organized the event and solicited support from local businesses. Applebee's Restaurant, Smitty's Cinema and Dairy Queen donated prizes for top fundraisers at the walk. The group handed out bracelets with slogans such as "Begin By Believing" and "Love is Not Abuse" to participants. They also distributed stickers, nylon tote bags, pens, lip balm and other tokens of appreciation.

Johanna Ames and her boyfriend Eric Dion, along with his daughter Miranda, were just a few who came out in support of the walk. Ames, once a volunteer for the RDVCC, liked the fact that these young people were addressing dating violence and other issues teens face today.

"Any attention to this is important," she said. "I think it's good and I wanted to help bring awareness to their cause."

Dion agreed, saying it wasn't a pleasant thing to see or hear about, but it was important to let people know it occurs. Both made generous donations to the cause.

Gabby Cremen is another SUM member who helped organize the event. By walking 2.5 miles through Tilton and Northfield, she felt they could help raise awareness for such violence. She hoped to even benefit from the experience herself.

After the walk, a "Speak Out" was held. Anyone who wished to do so was invited to discuss their thoughts on the subject and experiences of their own or of people they knew. Kitty Kiefer and Miranda Marden of New Beginnings and Desiree Holland of RDVCC were on hand to facilitate and give guidance to anyone who needed it. Kiefer said that, like their organizations, SUM was all about support and awareness.

"Advocacy is really healing," Kiefer said about SUM. "Kids who have been abused are able to jump right in with the group- its a healthy way to get help."

SUM members have already been approached by other students, both male and female, at WRHS who wish to join when the new school year begins. Support from teachers at the school has been terrific, too, the girls said. Some were able to join them in the walk, while others who had prior commitments sent their best wishes, which the group greatly appreciated.

"Hopefully we will have an even bigger group next year," Kehr said. "You wouldn't think this kind of violence happens that much but it does."

At day's end, Raise SUM Awareness donated approximately $250 to the two non-profit organizations. Mekula, Kehr, Santosuosso and Cremen were very happy with the event. As their first initiative to draw attention to violence in relationships, they felt the day was a success.

For more information on domestic violence and support available for those in need, visit www.newbeginningsnh.org or www.rdvcc.org.

Martin Lord Osman
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