BY KAYLEE DUFF
(Images courtesy of Dare2Care)
This Cleveland Leadership Program provides students with leadership skills to change the bullying culture in their school communities.
Dare2Care began in 2010 in Cleveland as a community fundraising event under the umbrella of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The “come as you are”-themed fashion show, poetry competition, dance and musical performances and, most importantly, the gallery of young people displayed who had taken their own lives in the 12 months prior, was Dare2Care’s attempt to raise money and awareness of the critical problem of teen suicide specifically amongst LGBTQ+ youth.
The gala held at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse was a huge success, and event co-chairs Liz O’Donnell and Don Wismer decided that they wanted to keep the momentum going and try to really do something to address these horrific teen suicide rates. “It was one thing to highlight it,” she said. “But it’s another thing to try to do something about preventing it.”
So Dare2Care co-founders Liz and Don decided to do something about it! “We thought it would be amazing to develop a youth leadership training model, that could actually focus on this specific topic,” Liz continued. “Bullying, LGBT-targeted bullying and leadership skills: We wanted to try and bring those three things together and give our youth what they needed to be their own agents of change.”
In 2011, Liz and Don split off from HRC to start their own non-profit organization dedicated to teaching youth self-advocacy. Liz explained some of the largest obstacles they faced when starting up — namely, that their volunteer staff lacked the youth leadership training skills to actually develop an evidence-based program. So they did the next best thing, and contacted Matt Nink from the Global Youth Leadership Institute (GYLI), a non-profit based in Milwaukee.
According to Liz, GYLI “had a program that develops student leadership skills in three very different ecological environments and this diverse approach to teaching fit in with our mission and vision for Dare2Care.” To get their program off the ground they approached Lakewood High School (LHS) about conducting a pilot study and were given the opportunity to present the initial Dare2Care trial program to the entire LHS freshman class.
Ultimately, Dare2Care offered a full scholarship to eight students and four faculty members at Lakewood High School (over two cohorts) to receive the three-year long leadership training conducted on the oceans of Connecticut, in the desert of New Mexico and in the rainforest in Costa Rica.
Data from the pilot study demonstrated the significant impact that the leadership training had on students, faculty and in many cases, parents. The first cohort of students did wonderful things, such as creating Club Identity, crowning their first male Prom Queen and educating their peers and school community about the effects of bullying.
“We were seeing what a positive impact the Dare2Care program was having, and we needed to look at how we could get this opportunity out to more students, more schools and for it to be cost effective,” said Liz. During their second year at Lakewood High School, Dare2Care started organizing multi-school workshops.
These one-day workshops provided students and faculty from several schools around the Cleveland area the same, training taught by GYLI over three years. Students engaged in leadership training, as well as discussions about the language around identity, microaggression, power, privilege — and how to bring about change within their own schools and communities.
“We’re giving the students the skills to go out and share the information with their peers in a way that resonates with them,” Liz said. Because this is what the students say they need: a way to engage with their classmates in conversations about identity and bullying, because the adults just aren’t getting it right. Faculty also get similar training, geared to influence such things as school policy, curriculum development, and the implementation of well-informed diversity and inclusion practices.
After Dare2Care had been hosting workshops and training sessions for three years, utilizing their core skeleton crew of volunteers, it became clear that to remain sustainable the program needed to find a more permanent home. In 2017, Dare2Care was embraced by the Cleveland Leadership Center (CLC), a long-standing non-profit Organization in downtown Cleveland, who offer several successful youth leadership opportunities, but nothing that specifically targeting LGBTQ+ youth bullying.
Dare2Care’s first workshop under the auspices of the Cleveland Leadership Center is scheduled for October 12 at Lawrence School in Sagamore Hills. It is CLC’s goal to host two multi-school workshops a year, so as to serve as many students in the northeast Ohio region as possible.
So what makes Dare2Care so special? According to Liz, programs like Dare2Care are important because we haven’t made a dent in the attempted or completed teen suicide rates amongst young people who self-identity or are perceived to be LGBTQ+.
“The rates of suicide have not gone down,” Liz explained. “We know that the attempted suicide rate amongst LGBTQ+ youth is four to five times higher than amongst their straight identified peers. Most LGBTQ-identified or -perceived students describe being bullied significantly more, face other obstacles, such as substance abuse, depression, school dropout and homelessness, and there just hasn’t been any significant change in those numbers.”
In addition, our state lacks specific laws protecting Ohioans from the use of specific and targeted anti-LGBTQ+ bullying language. There are not enough consequences for using anti-LGBTQ+ slurs, and we know that language is a powerful source of psychological bullying.
Programs like Dare2Care provide students and youth with an opportunity to develop self-advocacy skills. “We know students haven’t got the kind of support that they need to thrive and do well or the kind of safe spaces necessary for them to be able to talk freely about who they are,” admitted Liz. Learning the kind of leadership skills that Dare2Care provides and being able to offer said leadership to peers allows these students to be that needed support for each other.
That’s why Liz and Don founded Dare2Care: “These young people are going to be our next leaders,” Liz said. “We can do something in our own community — that’s where our power is, and that’s really what we’ve chosen to do — to make change at home.”