Learning how to establish and maintain healthy relationships is essential for us all. The benefits of a healthy relationships include less stress and an increase in happiness.  

Recently, a group of 14 local teens from six schools in western Mass participated in a teen leadership program that focused on healthy dating relationships.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Monica Moran, the Manager of Domestic Violence Prevention Projects for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and JAC Patrissi, founder and principal at Growing a New Heart, who co-facilitate the leadership group together, as well as student, Isra Nadeem who just completed the program. They spoke about the importance of having these types of conversations with teens, shared what they learned, and discussed the impact this program has had on them. 


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Learning how to establish and maintain healthy relationships is essential for us all. Some of the benefits include less stress and an increase in happiness. Recently, a group of 14 local teens from six schools in the region participated in a teen leadership program in support of healthy dating relationships.

I spoke with Monica Moran, the manager of Domestic Violence Prevention Projects for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and JAC Patrissi, the founder and principal at Growing a New Heart, who co-facilitate the leadership group together, as well as student Isra Nadeem, who just completed the program.

They spoke about the importance of having these types of conversations with teens, shared what they learned, and discussed the impact this program has had on them.

Monica Moran, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission: There were 10 different schools involved, students from 10 different schools, and it was a collaboration between a couple of organizations. Growing a New Heart that JAC is from, I work with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, two rural task forces — Southern Hillotowns and Ware River Valley, and also the SPIFFY coalition, the strategic planning initiative for youth. And we all got together to do this initiative.

Many of us work in schools and I and JAC go into high schools and Ware and Gateway and do prevention, which we couldn’t do because of COVID. And so it allowed us to do something we’ve wanted to do for years, which is bring teens together from different schools. But there’s — the transportation is such an obstacle.

But now, since we are all on Zoom anyway, it was like, “oh, we can finally do that.” So yeah. So JAC and I facilitated a group of 14 students from the different schools.

Zydalis Bauer: Now learning the values of healthy relationships and how to establish and maintain them is something that is important for all of us to know at any age. So why was it important for Monica and JAC, you both to establish this group with teens from high schools?

JAC Patrissi, Growing a New Heart: The materials that we share are for everyone. And I’ve been doing this work, anti-violence work for over 30 years. And I myself was in some great early relationships. And then I was in a relationship which I was working at what we used to call a battered women’s shelter, doing prevention work in schools with young people.

And when I met someone who I asked my board, they knew the person that person was a therapist, a mediator, great communication skills. And that little checklist we give, like make sure people are like this. All the boxes were checked and that person ended up being abusive towards me. And I was working in the movement.

And so it really made me think, what is it that I needed to know when I was the age of the people that I was working with at the time that we’re not showing people. And so that’s where the framework we came up with that we use, the the core of it came from really testing these ideas out with young people. And then afterwards, part of my work changed and I started working also with people who harm others in relationships, and they’re older and without fail, along the way, they would say, “I needed to know this when I was 11 years old. Why don’t they teach us this when we’re young?”

And when I started working with Monica, we both work on a project with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the division that works with sexual domestic violence that helps fund part of our time to do this. We both had this passion for doing public education, but we knew the real change happens when everybody knows it, when you’re at that age, when you’re — before you get into a really deep, long, committed relationships.

And so we joined our skills and our experience. Monica has been doing this for decades, too and with with the pandemic, like Monica said, it was this opportunity to get all these kids together.

Zydalis Bauer: Isra, you were one of the participants of this group. What compelled you to be part of this project and what was your experience like? What were some of the values that you learned?

Isra Nadeem, Health Relationships Workshop Participant: Um, I learned a lot of values. I think the first would be that Monica and JAC made such an opening and welcoming environment where I think we all felt welcomed and although we didn’t know each other, we opened up really fast.

So, I think all the values that we learn, we kind of were we were taught and we kind of used in this group, and we practiced them a lot. We learned about the cycle of abuse, and we also learned about open conversation, and then aspects of a healthy relationship. And I think these can all be applied to our future.

I think we’re all still very young, so we don’t know a lot yet. But just by knowing these things when you’re young, you can apply them to your future and also, like, help those in need who you may know or who may be in a negative relationship.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, according to the National Domestic Hotline website, a disturbing statistic is that on average, one in 10 high school students has experienced physical violence from a partner. What can we do to take action and begin to change that?

Isra Nadeem: In order to take action, the first step is to initiate conversation. Maybe not with the person who’s obviously abusing, but the person who is being abused. Just talk to them and understand how they might feel, not necessarily offer your advice right away, but just understand their position when, like, when might they be facing in their relationship and what might they fear.

Because in a relationship like that, there’s a lot of fear and a lot of negativity, where they may not open up right away. So you want to establish a solid base where they feel welcomed and they feel like they can talk to you without you judging them.

Monica Moran: I would echo that and build on it. I think as a culture, we we actually need a whole paradigm shift. And we need to start thinking about making sure that teens don’t graduate from high school without this information, so that that would be the real shift.

If it was normal for everybody who is 18 to understand when is conflict safe, and when it is abusive, and what are underlying abusive values and what are values of health and equity, and how do you know.

Because all relationships start out great. It’s complicated. It’s a calculus. It’s as complicated as calculus, even though we like to think it isn’t. And so we can make it normal that everybody — like that this is as important as learning anything, like math and English. It should be on MCAS. And then it would be infused in all our conversations. And parents would know if they could talk about it to their kids. And right right now, it’s not really seeped into our culture.

Zydalis Bauer: Upon completing the program, the group created a video that talked about what they learned. And what was really inspiring for me when I was watching the video, was to hear and see the confidence that all of these young women projected.

What was the most inspiring and biggest takeaway for you all as coordinators and facilitators, and also Isra for you as a participant?

JAC Patrissi: So, I spent a lot of time with my son, who’s a teenager, who who did that film. I’m so proud of his work. So I got to really watch people as we were editing it. And I was so blown away by seeing how much they knew and made their own.

It just made me I mean, I was joking with Monica. I’m done now. If I could afford it, I can retire. Let’s let them do it. It just felt great, like, “oh, there is hope the kids are all right.”

Monica Moran: I think seeing the depth of their understanding after having twenty four hours was so gratifying. Because I go into the classroom and maybe I have an hour, sometimes I’m lucky enough to get two or three.

I’m really throwing out the red flags. I’m like, maybe one of you will catch this lifesaving raft, but we don’t have enough time. But to really have the time, and to have the teens sit there and explain these complex concepts, it was just such a treat.

Isra Nadeem:: Yeah, I agree. I think that was interesting to see that we all learned so much, and we didn’t even realize it until we watched the video where a lot of us said we sound like professionals. Because in the way that we explain such intricate ideas and concepts, we did it at a level where we didn’t realize we knew all that until we spoke about it.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, since the first group has just completed, what’s next? How do you continue moving these conversations forward?

Monica Morann: We are on week two of our second group. We were just planning one group, but we had a lot of interests that were like, “OK, let’s do a second one.”

So we’re revising it, we’re fine tuning it. And I think we’re going to figure out how to keep doing this and even maybe develop a curriculum and train other people to, because this is is really important.

JAC Patrissi: And one part about doing it this time, we have two team leaders co-facilitating with us. Which makes it even more rich. And I hope, like as we develop it, it becomes something that becomes part of the model.