to the world of Andrew Victor and Jennifer Armellini,
educators for Stand Against Domestic Violence. For years the non-profit
organization has been visiting students at Olympic High School,
a continuation school in Concord that is packed with kids who are
struggling with physical abuse, drugs and neglect. This year Victor
and Armellini were eager to reach out to Beau and his classmates,
to show them that with planning and persistence they could make
it out of their homes and into college.
Victor and Armellini didn't get that chance. Struck this year with
a shortage of both volunteers and donations, Stand was forced to
slash its outreach to Olympic's students. In past years Victor and
Armellini came to Olympic once a week, every Wednesday, for ten
Wednesdays in a row.
year, the third day of the program - the day Beau and his classmates
presented their collages - became the final day of the year.
sad, the way he doesn't see a future for himself," says Victor,
after the school bells had wrung. "I wanted to sit down and work
with him. I wanted to spark a sense of self-worth in him." Over
ten weeks, says Victor, that might have happened. "With three weeks,
there just wasn't enough time."
a few hours at Olympic High School, and it's easy to see why Stand's
involvement is so needed. Olympic gathers troubled teens from around
the county, the bulk of whom have drug or disciplinary problems.
And as the students themselves explain, gathering together that
many troubled kids is itself a recipe for trouble.
class students whisper amongst themselves about who got wasted at
the last "get drunk" party - and where the next one will be. Monday
is widely known as "Ditch Day." When the students do show up for
school, many spend their time in the bathroom, which is reportedly
a bustling market for Adderall, a prescription amphetamine meant
to treat hyperactivity but, when used off-label, can become addictive
and lead to depression and insomnia, euphoria and psychotic episodes.
an atmosphere, Victor acknowledges, that can be the quick road to
nowhere. It's why, in their time with the kids, Victor and Armellini
work to break down that atmosphere and examine it with the students.
They start with the rap music the students carry in their pockets,
Eminem songs about "slappin' bitches" and "spankin' hoes." Rap talks
open the door to discussions on the cycle of violence, how abused
people, if they're not careful, end up becoming abusers themselves.
there we can talk about anger and anger management. We can help
them lay out a concrete plan that leads some place different - a
good relationship, a good education," says Armellini. "A lot of
these kids, they've been kicked out of class, some are hungry. They
don't know what a good relationship looks like because they've never
been in one."
Victor and Armellini are laying that framework, says longtime Olympic
instructor Hildegard Spritzer. In fact it's the ability of Stand's
educators, she says, to move the class from talk of hip-hop to relationship
and education plans that have led her to open her classroom doors
to them, third and fourth period, for now the fourth year in a row.
Stand educators, they speak the students' language," Spritzer says.
"These students are dealing with real conflicts in their lives."
By knowing their music and their slang, she says, Victor and Armellini
can penetrate and touch on those conflicts, then help guide the
students toward solutions.
breaks the tone with a laugh. Victor especially, she says, is what
she calls a "born-again student," a fresh-faced 27-year-old "impassioned
to show the kids things he didn't see in high school."
doors, she says, are open to him and Armellini any time.
have to be resources"
openness, from both Olympic's teachers and students, makes it all
the harder for Stand to cut and run. But contribution and volunteer
figures are the cold, hard facts of the non-profit world, and right
now, says Curt Anderson, Stand's director of development, the figures
on both accounts aren't looking so good.
lessons our educators are teaching them, you can see the transformation
in these kids right before your eyes," Anderson says. "But to keep
those lessons going, there have to be resources to do it." And right
now, he says, Stand doesn't have those kind of resources.
financial papers bear out this predicament in black and white. The
non-profit is dependent on a mix of state and national grants to
fuel its outreach program. In the past eight years, both sources
have atrophied considerably.
1996 the California Department of Health was providing Stand $450,000
each fiscal year. By 1999 to 2000, that funding was slashed to $150,000.
This year that total was hit again, dropped by a third to $100,000.
An increase in supplementary government grants made up for some
of that loss, providing an additional $4,000.
told, though, Stand's government funding is down $346,000 from where
it was just a few years ago.
the same time, contributions from individual donors have been plunging
as well. From 2001 to 2002, Stand's outreach was running on the
support of $559,353 in personal contributions. By 2003 to 2004,
that number was down $166,893 to $392,460.
the state and the community, that meant a net loss of over half
a million dollars, enough to make Stand's outreach coordinators
decide first to cut the support group they used to run at Olympic
High and now to clip their Olympic outreach at only three weeks.
particularly too bad about the Olympic High program," says Victor,
"because at Olympic, that's where those lessons are really needed.
The lesson about violence and personal responsibility - if they
don't get it there, they don't get it. The issue of violence follows
them around. They pass it on to their kids."
makes cutting the Olympic program especially hard for Victor is
that even though he and Armellini are only three weeks in, the kids
are starting to get him, he says, and catch on to his message.
class starts a few of the students catch Victor in the hall. An
Asian kid with a blue winter cap pulled down over his ears stops
the group, approaches Victor and begins a complicated ritual of
slaps, snaps and fist-banging. Victor knows the sequence as if by
instinct. He matches the kid slap for slap, snap for snap. When
the snaps stop there's a pause. Victor looks at the kid and the
kid back at him - before deciding to dump his cool image aside.
He lunges his winter cap forward and gives Victor a firm hug.
to see you," he says.
later Victor is standing before the entire class, trying to explain
that he and Armellini may not be coming back. The announcement is
greeted with tangible sadness. Eyes lower. Shoulders slump.
class, Ms. Spritzer approaches Victor.
have an incredible way of connecting with the students," she says.
"I do hope you come back."
not the only one. When the bell rings, Beau - the student whose
mother died and fears being homeless at graduation - talks about
what he learned over the brief weeks of lessons . and what he's
going to miss. He insists that for the most part he's still "completely
lost." And yes, like other students, he still ditches most Mondays.
the program, he says, has solidified his resolve to stay away from
the bathrooms, the heart of the Adderall drug ring. "I've also been
thinking more and more about getting something stable, like a stable
job," says Beau.
school's out Victor heads to a local Mexican restaurant. A chicken
burrito in one hand, he sits with interest, learning about Beau's
comments, reflecting on Ms. Spritzer's plea.
Stand there is talk that, given the financial and volunteer support,
the non-profit will send educators to Olympic High in January or
February, this time for the full ten-week course. If Stand gets
the public backing and the funds to do the job, would he be up to
it? Would he come back to Olympic?
eyes light up. He lowers his burrito and smirks. "In a flash," he
says proudly. "In a flash."
For more information on Stand, its
mission and outreach programs, visit their website,
www.standagainstdv.org, or call (925) 603-0138.