by Brent Frankenhoff
On August 29, the Tomorrow River School District partnered with Ascension Saint Michael’s Hospital Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Program and Saint Michael’s Foundation to bring the powerful educational program “Safer Choices: Dating, Communication, Respect, and Sexual Assault Awareness” to youth in grades 7-12 in our area.
According to local organizer Jenny Blenker, “Parents, educators, and community members throughout the country and from all walks of life (cultural, faith, socio-economic) praise this educational program for creating significant change in students’ ability to make better, safer choices in their lives and in the lives of their peers. This presentation is a fun, thought-provoking look at dating and intimacy in high school and/or middle school.”
Center for Respect Founder Mike Domitrz was the speaker at the event. According to his website (www.centerforrespect.com), following his sister’s sexual assault in 1989, Domitrz became committed to reducing sexual violence from ever happening to others and, in 2002, created the Date Safe Project, which later became the Center for Respect as its mission expanded to cover additional societal issues and situations. the Center is based in Mukwonago.
Blenker told the Spirit that, after attending a presentation by Domitrz at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) in 2018, she, “was motivated to bring his presentation to a local middle/high school, so I began reaching out to local schools. Shelley Swanson and Jen Berdan at Amherst were very receptive to the idea of hosting the presentation, so the process began to set the day and time of presentation here. Mike was again presenting at UWSP August 29, so we could obtain him for a discounted price if we stuck with that day. I wrote a grant to the Saint Michael’s Foundation for funding and was approved. They generously sponsored the event.”
Both Blenker and Swanson said they felt that the program was very important for area youth to hear. Swanson added, “We need to continue to teach students the importance of respect and dignity.”
Blenker said, “Mike does a great job talking about real-life scenarios that are happening in youth’s lives. During his presentation, he teaches them that asking first is respectful and focuses on healthy dating relationships. He encourages bystander intervention to help youth intervene in potentially dangerous situations and focuses on a culture shift toward respect. Youth walk away with life-long skills all done in a relaxed, sometimes humorous, environment.”
More than 200 people attended the presentation including students from Amherst and SPASH, parents, teachers, and community members. Blenker said, “My wish would be that this presentation could have been or could, in the future, be hosted during a school day to have a greater student attendance. That being said, coaches took this opportunity to have their teams attend – as a team – to support these very important topics affecting youth today, emphasizing their coaching commitment on and off the field.”
As for future plans for additional presentations, Swanson told the Spirit, “While the district didn't fund this presentation, we receive continued funds through the DPI Mental Health Grant and plan to provide school, parent, and community education presentations. If there are topics that families would like to see discussed, please contact the counseling offices at the school.”
Blenker added, “I would love to have this program again in the future. We are looking at possibly hosting it in Stevens Point next year.
“I really want to thank Amherst for hosting this presentation! It shows the commitment of the school to their students that they are willing to educate students about topics such as sexual assault and healthy dating relationships.”
Students walked away from the presentation with life lessons to handle high-pressure situations and start working toward a cultural shift to “Ask First.” Comments from students and parents who attended included:
“Fantastic … every Middle and High School student and parent needs to hear this presentation!”
“Following up with my two teenagers on the presentation and furthering discussion on consent and standing up for others. Also reinforces that I am always here for them.”
"I found value in the presentation because it went beyond ‘no means no.’ It helped students to understand what consent means in many different situations and gave them ways to identify to themselves and to others if they did not feel comfortable in a situation. It also helped bystanders to know how to help. My favorite part was the definition of consent which starts with ‘#mutuallywanted’ "
“Thank you for an amazing presentation. I wish our entire high school and upper middle school would have seen this. Plus, more of our teaching staff so they could see how to teach about consent.”
“Truly amazing! Mike takes a topic that is often difficult to talk to teens about and makes it enjoyable and entertaining.”
“This is a must-go-to. It will change your perspective forever!”
“I’ll talk to my daughter and my student athletes to know they can come to me with anything they need to talk about.”
Sidebar: Additional resources
Center for Respect: centerforrespect.com
CAP Services: https://capservices.org
Family Crisis Center: 715-343-7500
Sexual Assault Victim Services (SAVS) program: 715-343-7118
Mental Health Navigation Coordinator Lisa Grasshoff: 715-824-5524, ext. 1474
Mental Health Crisis Line: 866-317-9362
Sidebar: The Core Values of The Center for Respect
• Respect is at the foundation of each interaction, choice, and action we take.
• Ask and respect the answer.
• Do no harm.
• Pursue the growth, fulfillment, and well-being of each person.
• Appreciate and honor family and the team.
• Have fun advancing our mission.
• Seek opportunities that fit our unique abilities. • Be grateful and communicate gratitude throughout our relationships.