by Stephanie Nilva, Executive Director and Founder of Day One (pictured above speaking with a young person at You(th) Already Know! this February)
One hundred thousand young people could fill the seats for five nights in Madison Square Garden. It’s the size of MetLife Stadium and Barclays Center put together.
Day One has touched a lot of lives since 2003.
They came through our doors or we met them in classrooms, fewer at first, then in growing numbers. I think of them not as a stadium full of people, but as individuals with complex lives and tremendous strength and courage.
I remember the day a 16-year old came to the office with her father, concerned about her boyfriend’s abusive behavior. She talked with a social worker, and left with copies of our materials that explained the warning signs of abuse. At first we were concerned when she declined to come in for a follow-up meeting. “I looked through your materials,” she said, “And I broke up with him.”
Another voice from that six-figure crowd is that of a young man participating in a multi-session workshop on consent at a high school. Session Two discussed boundaries. He returned for the third class to tell our trainer excitedly, “I went on a date last week, and before we went out I asked her if she had any boundaries she wanted to tell me about… And she did! And she told me!”
I think about the stories that would be different today – the young people who sought help from Day One at a time when the school system had no applicable regulations and the courts didn’t offer orders of protection to dating teens. Those young people got emotional support and guidance and told us that it meant the world to them. Today, thanks in part to Day One, there are specific protocols for handling dating abuse in New York schools, and state law specifically protects people in dating relationships.
The truth is the number of young people Day One has influenced far exceeds 100,000. Not only because our record-keeping in those early days was… the record-keeping of a nonprofit in its early days. But also because the young people we helped, well, they’re young people. They talk to their friends. They engage in one of our workshops, and when they witness unhealthy behaviors, they speak up. They learn how to ask for consent, and every one of their future partners benefits. When they see a friend experiencing problematic behavior, they say, “Hey, I know where you can get help.”
For many years after we launched our services, our program staff included one lawyer and one educator. We now have seven trainers, three attorneys, ten social workers, a case manager and a paralegal. This growth offers young people the support of diverse professionals with a range of specialties, languages and skills. The shift and evolution of our programs have allowed us to deepen the work we do with youth and increase its impact. By spending longer with young people – throughout a semester or over the summer – we build stronger relationships with them, which develops their ability to act as independent advocates with their peers and makes it more likely they will reach out for help.
These days, we spend the bulk of our time on prevention building the capacity of students to define and direct the movement to end dating abuse and domestic violence. As the next generation, young people can envision a world without harm in relationships. They are powerful, smart, and creative, and Day One is honored to have them lead the way.