Teens at domestic violence shelter Rose House are being mentored to discover new interests, achieve their goals, and unleash their creativity by an after-school program created by student volunteers.
Creators of Divergent NYC, Jeremy Ashton and Elizabeth Jaskolski
Safe Horizon volunteers donate their time to give back to members of their communities. We are thankful for these individuals who work alongside our staff to provide support for victims of crime and abuse. Two of these driven and dedicated volunteers are Jeremy Ashton and Elizabeth Jaskolski.
Jeremy and Elizabeth are volunteers from the Ozanam Scholars, a social justice program at St John’s University. They created an after-school program called Divergent NYC to help teens who live at one of our domestic violence shelters, Rose House. The goals of the program are to help the teens discover new interests, develop action plans to achieve their goals and inspire them to unleash their creativity. “We want to give them a space in the shelter where they can gather and build a sense of community and support, ” Jeremy explains.
The volunteers from St. John’s University’s Ozanam Scholars who lead Divergent NYC
In 2014 Jeremy and Elizabeth learned of Safe Horizon and the services we provide for victims of domestic violence and their families. They toured Rose House and were eager to find out how they could assist the needs of residents and staff. The collaboration inspired the idea for Divergent NYC, which started soon after.
The teen residents who first participated in the group chose the name “Divergent NYC” because of the popular young adult novel and movie series. “Divergents are people who refuse to be stuck in an oppressive dystopian society, much like how the teens refuse to be stuck in their oppressive circumstances, ” Jeremy explains. “The dictionary definition of the word divergent is ‘tending to be different or develop in different directions’ and that is our end goal, to empower our teens to continue to be Divergent in their lives.”
One example of Divergent NYC‘s discussion activities
Helping Teens Heal
Teens who experience or witness violence can develop stress, anxiety, physical problems, and continuous mental issues. Because this trauma occurs during formative years, it can also impair the ability to socialize in a healthy way and form relationships with peers.
Understanding this, the Ozanam Scholar volunteers encourage the teen shelter residents to adopt healthy coping mechanisms by fostering an open, caring and compassionate community. The group often discusses serious topics such as social issues and current events, but also promotes relaxation by playing games and just having fun. “As a psychology major, one of the most important things I learned was introducing the teenagers to active coping mechanisms in the form of art therapy.” Says Elizabeth. “Painting, discussing music, writing poems, reflecting in our journals are all way for teenagers to indirectly discuss their thoughts. These allowed the teenagers to build a sense of community, comfort, and support among one another.”
Staff and volunteers noticed that the program participants were able to open up about many issues they were facing. Some examples include one teen asking the group for advice about being bullied, while another questioning sexuality and gender. The teens courage to express their problems instead of suppressing them is an accomplishment. “Having the space has allowed the teens to build self-confidence and has been as a source of motivation for several others, ” Jeremy says.
A New Tradition
Both the participants and volunteer facilitators say they have grown from the experience. “I have learned more from the kids at Rose House than any Ph.D. will ever be able to teach me.” Jeremy also gushes. “I am happier in a shelter basement than anywhere else, because this program means so much to me. I grow from participating in it every week.”
The positive impact of the group has inspired Jeremy and Elizabeth to enable future Ozanam Scholar volunteers to continue Divergent NYC long after they graduate. “As I graduate this May and Jeremy graduates next year, we have worked in collaboration with the staff of the Rose House to build out a curriculum and toolkit.” Elizabeth said. “This will help pass down the current program to future Ozanam Scholars.”