Event draws attention to domestic violence

ROCHESTER — Twelve-year-old Keilyn Arthurs could never have imagined that some of the young girls in her dance group had experienced domestic violence in their homes.

But those harsh truths were revealed when the Avenue D Recreation dancers began talking about choreographing a special performance for an Oct. 25 dance-a-thon at Gantt Community Center to raise awareness about the issue, Keilyn said.

"This was a great opportunity for our group to come and dance for something like this," she remarked. "I never knew someone could look so innocent and could go through something like that."

Educating the girls and other youths in the community about the realities of domestic violence is why the city’s Department of Recreation and Services chose to host the "No More Domestic Abuse" dance-a-thon, said Cynthia Rochet, who leads the Avenue D dance group with volunteer Evelyn Cassano of Webster.

Cassano was recognized for her community service with a plaque from the city’s recreation staff and Hispanic Heritage Month committee during the daylong event, which included speakers and dancing with music provided by DJ Alfonso Padovani.

The city department hopes to make the dance-a-thon an annual event, Rochet said.

Seven-year-old Ramon Watkins (left) and 8-year-old Jashon Butler show off their moves during an Oct. 25 dance-a-thon at the Gantt Community Center in Rochester. The event was held to raise awareness of domestic violence.

When she and Cassano broached the topic of domestic violence with the dance group, they broke the girls up by age group, Rochet explained. They also had guest speakers come in to talk to the girls, who include elementary and middle-school age students, she added.

"It’s a touchy subject," Rochet said. "But we wanted to bring more awareness. … They’re living it and they don’t even know what it’s called."

If a child grows up seeing abuse, that becomes part of their "normal" experience, explained Janet Chaize, with Alternatives for Battered Women, who also participated in the event.

So raising awareness is vital to changing those attitudes and behaviors, she added.

"It is so important for young people to understand what a healthy relationship is," noted Chaize, a transitional support services program coordinator. "And that is not going to be anybody hurting them. That is not OK."

In addition to the dance, for which the girls created masks, the group also made posters that were displayed by the parents and staff who participated with the girls in their special dance that debuted during the dance-a-thon.

The more than 60 children and youths and 15 adults who registered for the event raised a total of $175, which was donated to the Out of the Darkness program, Rochet said. The re-entry program, run by Sonia Rodríguez, assists women coming out of jail or substance-abuse treatment, according to a July 2013 article at https://en.elmensajerorochester.com/news/local/re-entry-program-aims-to-make-a-difference.

"I was very grateful," Rodríguez said of receiving the donation.

Stand Up Guys, a men’s organization that is part of Resolve Rochester, also were on hand for the dance-a-thon to speak about the need for men to not view domestic violence as just a "women’s issue," said Jack Brennick, a counselor with the organization.

"We are looking to recruit well-intentioned men to be more vocal," he said. "Men’s silence is deafening."

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