By Eileen Arnold
Teens Acting Against Violence (TAAV) is a youth-led violence prevention program that was created in 1996. A group of teens wanting to speak out against the bullying they saw in their school and community worked with the Tundra Women’s Coalition (TWC) to create TAAV with the intention of putting out public service announcements and giving presentations to their peers about healthy relationships.
Almost 20 years later TAAV is still thriving and has grown in many ways. TAAV is open to any middle or high school student in Bethel and meets Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays after school. Most meetings focus on teen issues like teen dating violence, STDs, alcohol awareness, body image, self-esteem, and suicide prevention.
This philosophy for youth in the TAAV program is that they are an integral part of the work that TWC is doing, and their outreach is the biggest arm of prevention that TWC has. TAAV activities are structured around leadership development, cultural relevance, work experience, outdoor education, skill building, presentations, healthy activities, and the crisis and family work that is the mission of TWC.
TAAV members travel all over the Yukon-Kuskokwim region to teach their Healthy Relationships presentation with their teaching video that they wrote and created with Delta’s radio station, KYUK, in 2005.
TAAV youth teach the presentations with the understanding that peers learn best from their peers and that the skills TAAV members gain from doing these presentations are a great boost to their knowledge, their confidence, and their public speaking skills.
In 2015, TAAV traveled to Mekoryuk, Kwethluk, Napakiak, Nunam Iqua, and Alakanuk to give presentations as well as in the Bethel Regional High School and the Kuskokwim Learning Academy in Bethel. They were also featured presenters at the Lead On! youth summit and at the Council of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault’s prevention conference.
TAAV is well known in the Bethel community and partners with many prevention groups and volunteers for many community events. TAAV is always part of TWC’s awareness events like Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. At large, well-known TWC events like the annual Yukegtaaq Celebration and the Children’s Fair, TAAV members are critical volunteers that contribute to the success of these events. TAAV members also partner with Bethel’s Diabetes Prevention, Nicotine Prevention, and Suicide Prevention coalitions by volunteering at events and showing up for awareness raising activities.
In 2011 TAAV members designed and implemented a youth leadership camp styled off of the Lead On! summit for Alaska youth that is hosted by the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault every year. TAAV members always attend this event and wanted to create their own camp focused more on subsistence and cultural activities of the region and make it available to more youth from this region. Teens Lead Ahead is still going strong five years later and consistently has youth representing the Y-K Delta with elders and speakers from the region speaking to youth and leading them through subsistence activities in the summer.
In partnership with KYUK, TAAV is in the process of creating another Healthy Relationships video. The first one was created in 2005 and focused on warning signs of unhealthy relationships. This new video focuses on modeling healthy relationships and how to keep your support network when youth begin engaging in dating relationships.
TWC and TAAV have also invested in the financial future of TAAV by starting an endowed fund with the Bethel Community Services Foundation with generous donations from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the Rasmuson Foundation. TAAV members fundraise all year long to do a downstates Outward Bound trip (for many it’s their first time out of Alaska) and while fundraising is a great thing for youth to be engaged in, it began to take up too much of the youth and the coordinators’ time. By creating an endowed fund it will hopefully free up time for TAAV members to carry out their mission and do less fundraising in the future.
The most exciting update for TAAV recently is that the University of Anchorage Justice Center published a quantitative study of 96 former TAAV members. “Overwhelmingly, TAAV members reported satisfaction with the TAAV experience. Specifically, TAAV participants reported that they felt accepted and supported in the program. Additionally, respondents reported that they had made friends in the program and learned new skills to help build a healthier life.” The study concluded that “TAAV is poised to remain a model for prevention, intervention, and education of middle and high school students in Alaska, if not the country.” The full results of the UAA Justice Center TAAV survey can be found at: http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/research/2010/1203.taav/1203.01.taav-program-evaluation.html
TAAV has been with TWC for almost 20 years. There are five former TAAV members working at TWC currently and one former TAAV member on TWC’s board of directors. TAAV’s influence on TWC’s work and TWC itself has been immeasurable and will hopefully continue to impact TWC, Bethel, and the Y-K Delta region for another 20 years.
To keep track of TAAV happenings you can “like” them on their Facebook page: Teens Acting Against Violence.
Eileen Arnold is the executive director at the Tundra Women’s Coalition (TWC). Before becoming the director, she was the youth services coordinator at TWC for five years and supervised the Children’s Program, the Engaging Men and Boys Program, and the Teens Acting Against Violence Program.