• Donald Tetto

Southwestern University has received a $66,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation to fund a summer intern program that will enable students to work with survivors of domestic violence.

During the summer of 2008, 10 students will work for agencies committed to addressing the epidemic of domestic violence. The students will help answer domestic violence emergency hotlines, provide care to children living at domestic violence shelters, work with law enforcement officials to provide support to survivors, teach English as a second language to survivors, assist agencies with grantwriting efforts, and help with public awareness campaigns such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Agencies that students will work with include the Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center in Georgetown, LifeSteps in Georgetown and Round Rock, Services to At-Risk Runaway Youth (STARRY) in Round Rock, Hope Alliance Crisis Center in Round Rock, and SafePlace in Austin. The agencies will provide training, guidance and mentoring to the students to help them develop an understanding of their organizations as well as the issue of domestic violence itself.

Suzy Pukys, coordinator of civic engagement at Southwestern, said the program will benefit both students and the participating agencies. “Community partners will receive much-needed volunteer help for 10 weeks over the summer − when volunteer help traditionally dwindles − and students will gain insight and work experience around a pressing social problem,” she said.

Pukys said domestic violence consistently emerges as an issue that concerns Southwestern students, and is one they want to invest time and energy in. However, most students need to make money over the summer and cannot afford to work without pay. The Verizon grant will solve this problem by enabling Southwestern to provide on-campus apartment housing for the students, along with a living stipend.

“This project will allow students who already have a passion for domestic violence to explore the issue at greater depth, and focus fully on the work without having to balance a full-time academic workload or other employment,” Pukys said.

Students who participate in the program will present reports on their experience at Southwestern’s annual Civic Engagement Symposium in the spring. Two students will be chosen to give their presentations at the 20th Annual National Service-Learning Conference in April 2009.

“We hope this project will serve as a model that we can make available to other colleges and universities nationwide,” Pukys said. “We also hope it will help raise awareness about a key issue in our community that is often underestimated, misunderstood or ignored.”

Applications for the program will be available to students in mid-February.

The program is one of several that the Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications, has funded to prevent domestic violence and help survivors. Others include Dress for Success, which provides clothing and classes on interviewing and resume building to women in need, and the Verizon Wireless HopeLine® Program, which provides cell phones to survivors of domestic violence. The foundation also sponsors an annual National Domestic Violence Summit.

“We look forward to seeing the results of the Southwestern program,” said David Russell, director of external affairs for Verizon. “We are looking for programs that we can implement in other schools.”

According to the Verizon Foundation Web site, one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence during her lifetime. Domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44 in the United States − more than muggings, car accidents and rapes combined. For more information, visit www.verizon.com/foundation


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