A school-based violence prevention program implemented by the Women and Children's Shelter of Barrie has lost its funding.
The Youth Outreach and Awareness Program (YOAP) was run in elementary and secondary schools in Barrie and Orillia since 2011, delivering support and advice to thousands of teens.
"We're really trying to end violence against women," said Lisa Spinks-Smith, Development Manager for the Women and Children's Shelter of Barrie. "We don't want to be here. We don't want to have to have a shelter here. It's a prevalent issue. It doesn't seem to be getting any better and violence prevention is one solution to helping youth development healthy relationships so that hopefully there won't be a need for the shelter."
The program was funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation for its first 3 years and run with financial support from the community for the fourth.
The shelter's latest bid for funding was unsuccessful and with a cost of over $75,000 per year to operate for one staff member and about 50 volunteers, the shelter says it can't keep it going.
For now, the shelter is putting the word out, appealing to the Wynne government and the community.
"We're hoping that somebody with deep pockets sees the value in it and wants to get involved and pull us back out so we can actually re-open the program," said Spinks-Smith. "We're not aware of any government funding for violence prevention so we're hoping government officials can do something."
The shelter says young people in schools face a cruel reality of peer pressure, media influence, and alienation just as they are building their identities and exploring relationships.
The pressure to fit in often leads youth to behave in hostile ways, without really considering the impact.
Research says youth attitudes predict future behaviour, and specifically, that teen dating violence is a strong predictor of violence in adult relationships.
An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure and that's why the shelter feels the school-based program is so important.
In a letter to the shelter, a grade 10 student in Barrie said the program saved her life.
"It is one of the reasons I am still on this earth today. I am very different, I get judged and bullied a lot but this program taught me to be strong and keep fighting. I hope this letter causes you to think, think about how if this program has saved my life, how many others it has saved, how many people have saved others with the information they got from this program."