“It’s not an anger problem. If this was an anger issue, all of us would be abusers. This is about one person wanting to gain or maintain power with tactics of abuse.”
At the age of 15, Donna Bartos found herself in an abusive relationship. Although she didn’t realize it at the time. The first six months she describes as being treated like a princess. Then things changed. Her boyfriend started to tear her down, she says, telling her she was fat and ugly. “Humiliation,” Bartos says, “is the first sign of an abusive relationship.
It took a violent incident for her to walk away. That was 20 years ago. But the memory of what happened never left. Bartos would later find herself at a conference where a teenage girl was the keynote speaker. She talked about escaping a violent relationship that nearly destroyed her.
Bartos got on the plane to fly home and sketched out her plan to start an organization called Bloom with the focus being intensive outreach to schools. But this program would be different. Bartos and her group would focus on prevention and recognizing the signs before the abuse even started. She wanted to reach out to potential victims, and abusers, to teach to recognize behaviors that could lead them down a destructive path.
Bartos recruited some of her friends who also saw a need for an organization like this. She aggressively raised seed funding from Social Venture Partners Arizona, and became the fast pitch recipient. That turned into a grant from the Verizon organization.
“This is our battle song, this is what we want to share with individuals and corporations. How many more lives have to be lost before we start looking collectively and on the massive scale.”
One of the keys to their success is that they are not “a once and done program”, meaning they don’t just do seminars. Bartos says that can be more harmful because “you turn up a bunch of stuff, then leave, and they (the kids) don’t know what to do.” Instead, the Bloom Crew partners with schools to do student outreach over the course of seven days, and then peer-led awareness groups twice a month, followed by small group sessions to build self esteem and communication skills for healthy relationships once a week for nine weeks. They hope to take the curriculum nationwide.
Bartos asks students to consider if they are blooming or wilting. Or making someone else bloom or wilt.
“When I see 40% hands go up and they say they are ready to bloom in in their corner of the world, that inspires me.”
Bartos is reaching these kids on a very real level. And she’s only just begun to Bloom.