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New York Daily News
November 12, 2009

Start Strong Bronx teens working to eradicate abuse
in relationships by teaching the kids

By Tanyanika Samuels
Daily News Staff Writer

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Months after the headlines, songstress Rihanna is now opening up about her abusive dating relationship.
It's a story that resonates with a group of Bronx teens working to share a similar message.

These teens are part of Start Strong Bronx, a youth program teaching 11- to 14-year-olds about healthy relationships and how to avoid abuse.

"We want them to have a vision of what a healthy relationship feels like, whether it's with their parents or teachers or with someone they're dating," said Christina Alex, the program's director.

Sponsored by Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, Start Strong Bronx kicked off this summer to tackle the issue by partnering with local government leaders, city school officials and community groups.

A reported 11.2% of New York City teens have been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year, according to a Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As part of Start Strong Bronx, teen volunteers reach out to middle school students in unique ways.

They've developed a comic book with a storyline about healthy teen relationships and performed a skit about cyber-bullying through text messages.

"Most middle school kids think that their parents' situation was not as drastic as ours," said teen volunteer Marc Simmons, 16, of Bronx High School for Visual Arts. "But we're not that far away in age group, so we will know what that abuse might look like and sound like."

The teen volunteers, with guidance from program advisers, are now working on a 15-minute film about relationships between middle school students, as well as with their parents.

"Even though our main focus is middle school, we get to tell parents and high school students about it also," said teen advisory member Bianca Ortiz, 16, of Aquinas High School.

"I think it's cool because not every adult knows what's going on. They think they know because 'I've been there before.' But they may not realize that what they do at home affects their child."

The Bronx program is one of 11 teen dating violence programs nationwide funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Blue Shield of California.

Bronx-Lebanon Hospital has partnered with the borough president's office, the city Department of Education, the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families, Pregones Theater, Violence Intervention Program, the Bronx Clergy Task Force and the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club to develop the program over the coming years.

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