Demand for at-risk group’s services higher than ever
Skylar Tharp has felt the sting of words such as “weird” and “freak.”
Some of her classmates thought the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder she struggles with was a good excuse to make fun of her behind her back. When a friend told her what was being said, she descended into paranoia and tried hurting herself.
“I’m different from all the rest,” she said. “So, I became an outcast at school.”
It wasn’t until she stumbled upon the Prevent Assault and Violence Education program during a community service project that the Heath High School student began to have some hope.
“It’s helped some. I’ve learned ways to deal with it,” she said. “I’ve learned ways to be able to grow from that.”
Now in her third year in the program, known as PAVE, Skylar, 16, travels to local middle schools to talk to the students about the repercussions of bullying, as well as sexual assault, abuse and unhealthy body image.
PAVE students embrace each other after a presentation to Heath middle-schoolers about the negative effects of bullying./ Jessica Phelps/The Advocate
She’s met a group of teens who don’t care about what makes her different. They’d rather focus on their common goal — stopping violence.
It’s difficult for Skylar to imagine what her life would be like if PAVE didn’t exist.
But PAVE Coordinator Jan GreenRiver and her son, Asa GreenRiver, who serves as PAVE’s part-time assistant coordinator, are worried that could become a reality.
In October, the GreenRivers learned PAVE had lost the $60,000 grant that supplied the majority of its funding. There is a chance it will get the money back in the fall. But the group has to survive at least that long, Jan GreenRiver said.
Right now, PAVE is in limbo, and members are hoping to find a way to get enough money, fast enough, to make ends meet, she said.
The PAVErs try to put on a brave face. But when the GreenRivers told the the students about the grant funding, many of them cried.
“That was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do,” GreenRiver said. ‘The bottom dropped out ‘
It’s easy to find the PAVE meeting inside Mental Health America. Try the room with the laughter spilling into the hallway.
PAVErs sit crowded around tables, sharing plates of chips, cupcakes and cinnamon bread. Their eyes scan their agenda — dated March 4 — when the group’s officers call the meeting to order.
Students volunteer to teach at Watkins Middle School, then they divide up to practice the skits and activities, which they presented there March 6 and 8. One of the group’s newest members
struggles to make a bullying skit relatable. With encouraging smiles, the PAVErs shout out suggestions.
Throughout the meeting, Jan GreenRiver encourages students to try to car pool or find rides to events so the group can minimize its transportation budget.
Asa GreenRiver passes out pledge sheets for a bowl-a-thon during spring break. He encourages students to get sponsors, knowing the money they raise will help keep things going a little longer.
It’s a different situation than what he and his mother were preparing for several months ago.
During the summer, requests for PAVE programs were pouring in from seven Licking County districts, Jan GreenRiver said. Some came from buildings the program never had visited before.
About 70 students showed up to the first Monday PAVE meeting of the school year. It was the group’s highest attendance number in years.
“We had huge plans for the year but then the bottom dropped out,” Jan GreenRiver said.
In September 2011, Congress allowed the Violence Against Women Act to expire without a replacement, she said.
That forced the Ohio Department of Heath to reduce its distribution of Rape Prevention Education Grants. PAVE was one of the programs that didn’t make the cut.
PAVE is sponsored by Mental Health America of Licking County, but the loss of state funding meant its almost $75,000 budget was cut to about $15,000. There’s some money from United Way and the Licking County Community Mental Health and Recovery Board. But that likely won’t be enough to cover salaries and transportation costs for the entire year, Jan GreenRiver said.
VAWA was reauthorized March 7, so PAVE might be able to get its grant back, shesaid. But PAVErs won’t find out until October, and the money won’t come in until November, she said.
“It’s just a matter of getting us there,” Jan GreenRiver said. “We have been able to still work because MHA does have some reserves but we’re not sure how long that can last.” Getting kids to listen
PAVE was started in 1994 as a way to stop violence by educating young people, said Paddy Kutz, executive director of MHA.
Then a freshman in high school, Bobby Persinger was one of the first PAVErs. His experiences lead him to a career working with youth through Pathways of Central Ohio.
It’s easy for kids to tune a teacher out. But when the message comes from their peers, they listen, he said.
According to survey data, the students who receive PAVE education are paying attention.
In September, the GreenRivers compiled responses from about 7,800 students who went through PAVE’s three middle school programs, as well as the high school program Asa GreenRiver teaches called RespectEd.
About 85 percent of the students said they liked the program. But more importantly, 95 percent said they learned something from it, Jan GreenRiver said.
Jan Greenriver, along with her ‘Pavers’ Emily Minton, Skylar Tharp, Alexis Bennett, Dillon Dozier and Kalee Pavich, talk to middle-schoolers in Heath about the effects of bullying and negative body image. / Jessica Phelps/The Advocate
“They are teaching about cyberbullying, teen dating and violence. These are issues that impact the community,” Persinger said. “A group of (students) saying, ‘We have some information and education for you,’ can essentially change young people’s lives.” Instead of just focusing on a hookup we also go out and use many other healthy dating techniques that improve the mental health and core passion of young people.
As president of PAVE, Heath junior Emily Minton has taught at schools across the county. She has heard several students say they’ve had problems at home, but listening to the PAVErs helped them figure out how to get help.
“That’s what amazing to me is when the kids say thank you,” she said.
In PAVE’s early days, students struggling with abusive relationships or bullying felt isolated because no one was talking about the things they were going through, Persinger said.
“The creation of groups like PAVE broke down the stigma,” he said. “They encouraged people to say, ‘I’m not just going to allow this to happen to me. I’m going to stand up and ask for help.’”
Just thinking about the loss of PAVE is devastating, Kutz said. She hasn’t set an end date yet, still hoping enough donation and grants will be found to keep PAVE going.
“It makes a huge different,” Kutz said. “(Kids) need to hear the other students talking about (these topics) and saying ‘This helped me. Somebody was violent with me, but there is another way to treat people.” Stopping the damage
Alexis Bennett stood in the Heath Middle School auditorium holding a picture of a heart.
She asked the class of sixth-graders to give examples of how a child might be bullied. With each example, she ripped the paper until the heart was in shreds.
Then, she called a few students to the front of the room, challenging them to put the pieces back together.
Despite the chants of their classmates, the students couldn’t repair it. There was too much damage, Jan GreenRiver told the students.
“Instead of fixing a broken heart, why do we have to break it?” she asked. “Why can’t we stop it before the damage happens? Because of you, we can.”
When the bell rang, the sixth-graders were replaced with a class of seventh-graders. During their March 12 visit, Jan GreenRiver and the PAVErs were scheduled to talk to them about gender stereotypes and health body images.
The students laughed at some of the pictures of celebrities that GreenRiver showed them to illustrate how men and women are represented in the media.
But the room got quiet when the images on the screen transitioned to models who died of eating disorders.
Then, Heath junior Kalee Pavich stood up to tell her story.
After being bullied because of her weight, Kalee struggled with anorexia nervosa. At one point, she’d lost so much weight she went down to a size zero and no longer had the energy to walk up stairs.
Kalee said PAVE gave her the confidence to share her experiences with others.
“I want (the kids) to feel they are learning something from me,” she said. “I hope it will change their lives for the better.”
Once after teaching a class, a girl approached Kalee and thanked her.
“She said, ‘I’m glad I’m not the only person going through it,’” Kalee said. “I felt like I had finally fulfilled my promise to make a difference.” A family trying to fight
It has been months since Jan GreenRiver and her son have spent time together that wasn’t consumed by discussions about how to save PAVE.
Volunteers are providing snacks for the students, and they’ve cut down on handouts, T-shirts and transportation to non-essential activities, GreenRiver said.
“I can’t think of anywhere else to save,” she said.
They’ve considered asking schools to pay for their programming, but it’s something they’ve never done before, she said.
“Schools are losing money too,” she said. “It’s hard to go to a school with a levy on the ballot and say, ‘We need to charge you.’”
Although the budget is shaky, the group has continued its mission, GreenRiver said.
“We are scheduled at schools almost every week now until May,” she said. “It’s remarkable how many different schools are requesting us.”
The GreenRivers have been applying for grants as frequently as possible. But they aren’t the only ones fighting. The students are selling coupon books to raise money and are trying to get donations any way they can.
Many students in PAVE are living in poverty. Others are struggling in abusive homes or dealing with sick family members. Some are survivors of sexual assault, Asa GreenRiver said.
There have been times when he or his mother has gotten a call at 4 a.m. from a PAVEr in crisis.
It’s scary for them to think about losing their jobs. But letting down the students who have come to depend on PAVE would be even more devastating, Asa GreenRiver said.
“For some of the kids it’s all they have. What will happen if it goes away?” he said. “(If it does), how can we do it on a volunteer basis so they can still have this sanctuary?” An opportunity to feel love
Chase Lasko remembers when PAVE came to his eighth grade class at Wilson Middle School.
“In my class, a lot of people were touched (by the PAVErs),” he said. “Seeing their reaction made me want to go and do the same thing.”
Now a freshman at Newark High School, Chase started in PAVE several weeks ago. Already he has made friends with PAVErs from different schools.
“I worried about school rivalries,” he said. “But I realized it doesn’t matter where you come from.”
Most of the students never would have met if it weren’t for PAVE. But they’ve quickly learned to count on each other, said Mara Miltimore, a Licking Valley senior.
“As soon as you walk in the door (at a meeting) people greet you with a hug,” she said. “I think that kind of connection is something that’s lacking in today’s society.”
After balancing classes at the Career and Technology Education Centers of Licking County with his job at Leghorns, Austin Wilson looks forward to PAVE every Monday as a time to relax.
“If you have a frown walking into the room, it’s not going to be the same when you leave,” he said.
If PAVE disappears, future students won’t know what they are missing. But for current PAVErs, dissolving the group would mean losing a support system and a group of loyal friends, Mara said.
“It’s not just something that happens on Mondays. People in PAVE are impacted by what’s said here,” she said. “Every human being has a longing for acceptance and to be loved. I think PAVE offers the opportunity to feel that.”
Newark Advocate Official Article: Demand for at-risk group’s services higher than ever
Written By: Anna Jeffries Advocate Reporter