Texas Council on Family Violence Kicks Off Campaign Called “Young Hearts Matter” to Raise Awareness During Teen Dating Abuse Awareness Month in February

Meet the 2015 Young Hearts Matter Advocates of the Year, and Finalists from Across Texas


Austin, Texas – Today, Young Hearts Matter, a campaign to bring awareness to teen dating abuse, recognized key leaders across Texas during February, Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month. Teen dating abuse happens in every school across Texas and the United States.

Events and programs to raise awareness allow students to come forward and get advice and help before a situation escalates to violent behavior. In today’s environment, technology like social media and texting, can make it easy for teens and young adults to communicate, but it can also make it easy for a dating partner to use technology to harass, control and abuse their boyfriend or girlfriend. The Texas Council on Family Violence is working to make sure students are engaged, educated and empowered to know their rights and know when they are involved in healthy and unhealthy dating relationships.

TCFV is honoring Sarah Ambrus as Advocate of the Year. This award recognizes an adult ally who partners with young people, is a leader for violence prevention in her community and has made prevention programming more accessible as a result of her efforts.

Sarah Ambrus is a special education teacher for Leander ISD and one of the original co-sponsors of C-Squared. C-Squared, or Coalition of Clubs, is a campus organization that started in 2010 where students joined together to encourage a culture of kindness on their campus. Sarah and co-author, Christine Simpson, chronicled the collaborative models, practical tools, and firsthand accounts from students, parents and teachers who worked together to positively influence their campus in their book, “Riding Shotgun: Empowering Students to Lead Change.” From these beginnings, the C-Squared movement has grown and spread to 33 elementary, middle, and high schools across Leander ISD, where most of the schools were designated as No Place for Hate campuses by the Anti-Defamation League in 2014. Much of this growth can be attributed to the support Sarah offers during her free C-Squared sponsor trainings.

Sarah Ambrus, C-Squared, Leander, TX

TCFV is also honoring Nicole Gray of Focusing Families in Hempstead, Texas as the youth ally who is an activist in her community and a school leader among her peers. She has done outstanding work to spread awareness and prevent dating and sexual violence.

Nicole is currently interning at Focusing Families in Hempstead. There she helps facilitate healthy relationships sessions to her peer groups at Hempstead Middle School. She passionately stands before groups of students and helps lead conversations that will end violence in communities. A survivor herself, Nicole has never let that define her. Instead, she has used her process of healing to find her voice to stop all forms of violence to her generation. Additionally, Nicole has helped Focusing Families start becoming more youth focused, once again giving voice to her generation.

Nicole Gray, Focusing Families, Hempstead, TXӬ

“The hearts of the young people in our lives are precious. Teen dating violence is an urgent and silent problem across Texas,” said TCFV CEO Gloria Terry. “We are getting our sons and daughters involved in raising awareness at an early age in hopes that they will never experience or perpetuate violence. We are thrilled to be working with local programs, school districts and student leaders across Texas who are coming up with many innovative ways to educate their peers in their schools. The Texas Council on Family Violence is also thrilled to honor Nicole Gray and the other honorees who are leading the way in dating violence prevention in their schools and communities.”

This month, students in schools across Texas with the help of domestic violence service providers, school districts and TCFV are getting involved in campaigns in their schools to help identify the signs of an unhealthy relationship and help students know their dating rights. Dating abuse takes place when a person physically, sexually, verbally or emotionally abuses another person in the context of a dating or romantic relationship and when one or both of them is a minor.

Teen Dating Violence looks many ways, but can involve: put-downs, extreme demands on time, intimidation, isolation, constant texting, stalking, and physical injury. Teen Dating Abuse can also involve forced sex, forced pregnancy, threats of violence, suicide, stalking and murder.

Statistics in a statewide survey show that 75% of 16 to 24 year old Texans have either personally experienced dating violence or know someone who has experienced it. According to a recent study, between 42% and 87% of dating violence occurs in a school building or on school grounds, with the highest occurrences in rural areas.

Schools in Texas can help teens lay the foundation for making good dating decisions while they are in school by applying a whole-school approach to end the violence happening on school grounds, making their dating abuse policies clear and implementing them, training faculty and staff to recognize and respond to the signs, educating youth to support behavioral change and by observing Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month every February.

Meet the 2015 Young Hearts Matter Awards Finalists

Xavier Thompson, United Voices 4 Change, Ft. Worth, TX

Xavier Thompson is the President of United Voices 4 Change, a unified body of student leaders from campuses across Ft. Worth ISD. The mission of UV4C is to address common concerns, provide service to their community, and teach positive qualities to help create problem free communities. The UV4C elects its own representatives from each school, including the group’s officers. Each year the UV4C hosts a youth retreat to help train the new teams of students on their mission, and plan events they want to see happen in their school. Xavier plays a key role in planning this retreat and is responsible for submitting the group’s agendas to the Ft.WISD school board and superintendent. Last spring, Xavier was chosen to do a local TEDx talk on INOK, or It’s Not Okay, a campaign started by the UV4C to talk about making respect the social norm in their communities. This is Xavier’s 3rd year in UV4C and he is truly a great young man with a heart to make a difference in the world.

Zara Hassan, Be Project, Dallas, TX

Zara was a part of The Family Place Be Project leadership group in her school, Turner High School, for two years before graduating in 2012. During that time, she served as a leader and role model to her peers by implementing awareness activities on her campus. After graduating, Zara stayed connected to The Family Place Be Project. Last summer she volunteered with Be Project staff and helped present workshops on empathy and bullying to kids at a summer camp. Zara has been an amazing leader at the Be Project.

Jeff Temple, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX

Jeff Temple is a professional who has dedicated his career advocating for healthy teen relationships. He wears many hats, one of which is an associate professor for the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UTMB – Galveston. Dr. Temple is also the Director of Behavioral Health and Research where he dedicates much of his research to adolescent behavior, sexual health, and teen dating violence. In 2013, Dr. Temple published a study on the Need for School-Based Teen Dating Violence Prevention programs. He currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Task Force for DV HB2620, which aims to inform the Texas Legislator about appropriate domestic violence interventions and improvements to responses, and as a Board of Trustees of Galveston ISD.

Amy Miller, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dallas, TX

In addition to being the school counselor at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School, Amy Miller goes above and beyond to make sure that each student on the upper school campus receives messages about empathy and healthy relationships in an effort to create a kind and bully-free STA through her partnership with the Be Project. This is not an easy task as STA is the largest Catholic Pk-8th grade school in Texas! Be Project is a program that empowers youth to be a part of the solution to end relationship violence and has been implemented at STA for the past three years. Amy has made it her personal responsibility to assist Be Project staff with facilitating the Be Project program on campus and currently oversees the Be More leadership group, a group of student leaders who organize awareness events on campus. This year Amy has helped Be More students organize and implement a secret school-wide flash dance during Bullying Awareness Month in October and the group continues to plan events for the spring semester! Amy is a true ally who has helped to give space to young people’s voices in her school community.