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Purple Peace Zone effort fights domestic violence

WORTHINGTON — More than 35 students of District 518's middle and high school gathered in a room Tuesday afternoon for the kickoff event of the Purple Peace Zone, a joint project between the Southwest Crisis Center and the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and purple is the color used to symbolize the commitment to end domestic violence. The Purple Peace Zone project, funded through a grant from the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a way for schools, businesses and community organizations to take action against domestic violence by stopping it before it starts.

"There's a lot of focus on talking to adults about domestic violence," said Sasha Cotton of the battered women coaltion. "We want to focus on the kids as well."

Crisis center advocate Thi Synavone invited students to the Nobles County Integration Collaborative for the kickoff event to meet Cotton and to talk about the project.

"We see you as our partners in helping to develop this campaign," Cotton told the students. "There are lots of ways to get involved, and we love to see you guys talking to your peers about this stuff."

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The discussion revolved around healthy and safe relationships, between both friends and couples. Cotton spoke to the students about understanding good boundaries and being in relationships that made them feel happy, not sad.

"You need to be a healthy person yourself — feel good about yourself," she explained.

The goal of the program is to create messages and activities focused on the ability of youths to be leaders in all aspects of their lives, especially relating to healthy relationship development.

"We want to empower young people with education and the tools to talk about what it means to be a healthy individual and how that should look in a healthy relationship," Synavone said.

The women's coalition has put together two contests to promote student involvement in domestic violence awareness. The first is a Purple Peace Zone pride day, which will take place Wednesday at the middle school and Oct. 28 at the high school. Students are encouraged to wear as much purple as possible. Participants are urged to take photographs and send those photos to the coalition.

The second contest will be creating a Purple Peace Zone kit to decorate windows, doors or walls with violence prevention messages using the color purple. The coalition provides the start of the kit, which includes a window cling, purple fabric and other decorative items. Teams may then add whatever they choose to create a display. The display needs to be photographed, and the picture sent to the coalition. In both contests, there are prizes for first, second and third places.

The grant for the project is for $8,000, to be split between the four locations of the project — Worthington, Duluth, Circle Pines and St. Paul.

"We have a shoestring budget to make this happen," Cotton admitted. "But we're hoping if it goes well, it will continue to be funded."

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Cotton was pleased to see how many students showed up to participate — especially how many boys came to the event. She said it gives them the opportunity to pass on messages about needing the skills to be good life partners. Those messages will be continued in February, which is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

"Domestic violence does not discriminate based on age, race, religion or socioeconomic status," Synavone said. "It is not a personal issue, but rather a community issue. We need to take a stand against domestic violence and make it known that we will no longer tolerate it in our community."

According to the coalition, 28 people died in Minnesota in 2010 as a result of domestic violence. According to a recent crisis center newsletter, in the first three quarters of 2011, the center served 786 domestic violence victims, 37 sexual assault victims and safe-housed 23 people between Nobles, Jackson, Cottonwood, Pipestone and Rock counties.

"Domestic violence is 100 percent preventable, and education is our best tool to ensure that young people grow up to enjoy happy, healthy and safe relationships," Synavone stated. "Let's join together and show our Purple Pride."

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