Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, NYC Department of Education, Sanctuary for Families, Pregones Theater and community partners to promote healthy relationships through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s new national Start Strong initiative

Bronx, New York – Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg joined the Bronx Partnership for Healthy Adolescent Relationships (Bronx PHAR) today to announce the launch of Start Strong Bronx, part of the largest national initiative ever funded targeting 11-to-14-year-olds to promote safe and healthy relationships and prevent teen dating violence and abuse.

Based at lead organization Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, BronxPHAR was chosen as 1 of 11 community partnerships nationwide to receive $1 million in funding through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s national program, Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships. Beginning today, Start Strong Bronx will rally the entire community including teens, parents, caregivers, educators, and community leaders to build environments that support healthy relationships and ensure violence and abuse are never tolerated.

Ten percent of teens in New York City reported being hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend over the past year, according to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey data.

There is a clear need for educational programs and community engagement to reinforce positive teen relationships. Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center and partners Bronx Borough President’s Office, NYC Department of Education, Sanctuary for Families, Pregones Theater, Violence Intervention Program (VIP), the Bronx Clergy Task Force and the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club developed a comprehensive plan for this four-year initiative to address the community’s needs. The plan includes a healthy relationship curriculum in five middle schools; workshops and support groups for 11-14- year-olds; a Men of Strength (MOST) Club program for coaches and athletes, and an art-based mentoring program. Start Strong Bronx will be guided by Teen Advisory Board members who will co-facilitate workshops and develop new creative skills, such as drawing a manga comic book brochure, to reach their younger peers.

“I’m confident that Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center and our partners can make a difference in the critical public health problem of teen dating violence. Together, we will teach young people and their families in our hospital clinics, schools, churches and athletic fields to build healthy relationship skills and stop dating violence before it begins, said Project Co-Director Dr. Ram Kairam, Chairman of Pediatrics, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center.

Today, Start Strong Bronx announced its logo contest winner, Jimmy Giap, a sophomore at the Bronx School of Visual Arts, and MS 331 students dramatized a healthy relationship poem they created with teaching artists at Pregones Theater. They and their classmates will develop an interactive play called “Texting for Life” scheduled to debut in October 2009 for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.The Office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. will continue its aggressive anti-violence campaign as a partner of Bronx PHAR. The Office will convene the Bronx federal, state and city legislative delegations to raise awareness on teen dating violence and to implement long-term policy and legislative changes.

“As the father of two teenage boys, I think it is essential to educate our youth about healthy relationships and the value of respecting themselves and respecting others,” said Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz, Jr. “Our children need to know that if a friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his or her partner, they can’t look the other way. We need to create an environment where teens feel safe to talk, learn, work and play. And they should be comfortable coming forward if an issue does arise and know that there is help through programs like Start Strong Bronx.”

Start Strong Bronx fills a need in the citywide efforts to break the cycle of domestic violence by intervening early with middle school students. “I want to congratulate Borough President Diaz and Dr. Ram Kairam, thank the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and all the other partners, and wish the Start Strong Bronx program all the success in the world. We want all our young people to start strong, and stay strong, in mind, body, and spirit, and that has to include creating healthy relationships and avoiding abusive ones,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

“We are excited that the Start Strong Bronx program will be engaging Bronx youth and community members in a conversation about how to have a healthy relationship. It is vital that young people learn about respect and equality while they are developing relationship skills. Educating young people is the first step in preventing abusive relationships, and we look forward to working closely with the Bronx Borough President’s Office, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center and all the community partners involved,” stated Commissioner Yolanda Jimenez of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Blue Shield of California Foundation* are investing $18 million in 11 communities across the country to identify and evaluate the most promising pathways to stop dating violence and abuse before it starts. Through the Start Strong grant provided by the RobertWood Johnson Foundation, Bronx PHAR is working with the Family Violence Prevention Fund to implement the Start Strong model in the Bronx. Start Strong combines and expands on innovative strategies in education, policy change, community outreach and social marketing campaigns to empower local teens to develop healthier relationships.

“Teen dating violence is one of the nation’s most serious public health problems. Our health and well-being are critically connected to how we live, work, learn and play,” says James Marks, M.D., M.P.H., Senior Vice President and Director, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group. “Our goal is to create new comprehensive public health models that can both prevent relationship violence and even more help our young people build healthy, positive relationships and that is why the focus on youth involvement is essential.”

(* Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding ten sites around the country and Blue Shield of California Foundation is funding one site in California.)