Their class assignment started off like those of other students. The team of three Grade 10 girls – Elizabeth Tauber, Yoselyn Villegas, and Jessica Freimuth – selected a charity in Abbotsford (the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley) and campaigned on its behalf at an assembly of several hundred students, staff, and community members in a bid to win $5,000 for the non-profit.
Where their presentation moved to the exceptional was when two of the three young women bravely shared their personal experiences with domestic violence.
“By us making this more public, especially to our younger generations and people our age, we can give them the tips and help them figure out when it’s a red light, so that women and men can stay away from relationships like that and keep themselves safe, and take care of themselves,” said Villegas.
Grade 10 classes at W. J. Mouat secondary school are participating in the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), a Toronto-based educational program that teaches philanthropy. Since its start in 2002, YPI has grown to grant over $6 million in funding across Canada to charities selected by students in participating schools.
Villegas, Tauber, and Freimuth were selected the semi-final winners at W. J. Mouat on Monday. They will compete with other Grade 10 students in June. The winning team gets $5,000 from YPI toward their chosen charity.
The three girls selected the Women’s Resource Society because of their personal experiences.
It’s the counselling that Villegas has received from professionals that has given her the strength to speak publicly about the intensively sensitive issue.
“A lot of people do brush it off because it’s not usually something that people like to address, because of the social status that it has…The whole experience with that, and building through it and working through it on my own with the help of others made me realize that it’s not something that should be kept to yourself.”
The girls want to tell people in abusive relationships that they are allowed to leave and that there are resources in the community to keep them safe and provide basic needs.
“A lot of people in situations like this, they’re always finding excuses to excuse their abuser,” said Villegas. “What we want to do with bringing this touchy subject out is to say, ‘That’s wrong. You deserve the respect. You have integrity as a human being and you don’t need to excuse their behaviour.'”
The Women’s Resource Society helps any woman who has experienced violence or abuse in her life. Caring staff provide one-on-one counselling and support groups, advocacy with various agencies, accompaniment, and information, such as connecting a woman with a transition house.
“It’s for anyone of all ages,” said Villegas. “Even people our age can go there now, and they can just walk in there and they don’t need a referral, they don’t need to talk to their parents. They just go in, and they get the help for themselves.”
Villegas wants to go into social work because of what she has experienced. Freimuth is thinking about working in psychology.
W. J. Mouat has embraced YPI as another effort to promote positive character values at school, part of their participation in Abbotsford City of Character, a voluntary initiative that promotes respect, responsibility, integrity, empathy, courage, and service in Abbotsford society.
A total of seven teams competed in the YPI semi-finals at Mouat on Monday. In addition to the Women’s Resource Centre of the Fraser Valley, students competed to support Big Brothers Big Sisters, KidSport Abbotsford, Cyrus Centre, Center for Epilepsy and Seizure Education, and Youth Unlimited.
The team of Villegas, Tauber, and Freimuth will go up against another six Grade 10 W. J. Mouat teams in June.