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Wilder senior project tackles domestic and dating violence

Wilder seniors Lissete Elizalde (left) and Montserrat Cervantes-Valle arrange a table of water for runners after they finish the 5K Run for Respect on April 14, 2018, at The College of Idaho. (Chris Bronson / Idaho Press Tribune)
Wilder seniors Lissete Elizalde (left) and Montserrat Cervantes-Valle arrange a table of water for runners after they finish the 5K Run for Respect on April 14, 2018, at The College of Idaho. (Chris Bronson / Idaho Press Tribune)
By Nicole Foy Idaho Press-Tribune

WILDER — This year, two Wilder girls decided to use their senior project as a chance to address the issue of dating and domestic violence.

Lissete Elizalde and Montserrat Cervantes-Valle, both 18-year-old seniors at Wilder Middle-High School, knew dating violence and domestic abuse was a problem in their community, even for students still in middle school. Tackling such a sensitive topic with their peers was daunting for the two shy, quiet girls — but they felt the difficult discussion would be worth it.

“I’ve seen family members and friends go through that type of stuff,” Elizalde said.

Elizalde and Cervantes-Valle reached out Kaylee Farrell, the teen outreach coordinator for Advocates Against Family Violence, based in Caldwell. Both girls had participated in Farrell’s “Healthy Relationships” class during their junior year and hoped Farrell would help them find a way to bring the things they learned to the rest of the Wilder community.

Farrell suggested they help organize the Advocates Against Family Violence’s 5K “Run for Respect” in April, which would raise awareness of domestic violence in Canyon County.

Idaho senior projects usually require 40 hours of work on a topic, culminating in a research paper and presentation. Tammy Blanchard, a teacher at Wilder Middle-High School, said Cervantes-Valle and Elizalde’s work on their project went “above the requirements.”

Farrell agreed. Cervantes-Valle and Elizalde threw themselves in the preparation for the run, she said, bringing teachers and friends along, too. They made announcements at school, passed out flyers around the community and worked on the run’s banner. One group of Wilder teachers ran as a team in the run, according to Farrell.

Cervantes-Valle also designed the pink shirts runners and volunteers wore the day of the run. The shirts read, “Hands are for holding, not harming” and featured two clasped hands.

Both girls also arranged an all-school assembly in February for Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. Farrell and other Advocates Against Family Violence staff shared their personal stories with the students and offered resources for anyone who needed help.

“It’s a serious topic that doesn’t really get out that much, especially in this day and age,” Elizalde said. “People think that one thing is OK when in reality it really isn’t. Here in Wilder, it’s a really small community. There aren’t a lot of resources out here, compared to what’s in Nampa or Caldwell.”

The “Run for Respect” raised about $1,350 for the Advocates Against Family Violence’s teen outreach program, according to Farrell. The money will fund future “Healthy Relationships” classes — just like the one Cervantes-Valle and Elizalde attended — in middle and high schools around the Treasure Valley.

Farrell said she was ultimately impressed by the girls’ growing confidence in broaching these topics among their peers over the year. Their goal was to create a supportive, positive environment for discussing solutions to domestic and teen dating violence in their school and community, Farrell said, and she believed they had succeeded.

“They were adamant about showing up for us and being there,” Farrell said. “I hope that they’re going to keep on doing this type of work in their lives.”

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