Back when Kristen Giacchino was teaching kindergarteners and first graders their ABCs, she would never have guessed that someday she would be on the front lines of preventing sexual assault in Illinois. However, her experience with young children serves her well in her current role as Director of Community Engagement for The Clove Alliance. The Clove Alliance (https://clovealliance.org) is a non-profit organization that provides free, confidential services to survivors of sexual assault and works to prevent sexual violence. Their ultimate goal is to eliminate sexual violence, but in the meantime their efforts focus on prevention and support. As Kristen says, “We would like nothing better than to be out of business” in the future because the problem has been solved.
By Lisa Cannon
Honesty, Information, and Compassion
In conjunction with schools throughout the state, the Community Engagement program focuses on education and prevention work with young people and those who care for them. Kristen notes that Momence is one of their most successful partnerships because Dr. Thrasher and her team take full advantage of the wide range of programs and services offered. They understand the value of a multi-faceted approach; working with students, teachers, staff, parents, and community members.
The hope is to help students become strong self-advocates and agents of change towards a brighter, safer future.
A central tenet of their strategy is to work with children from an early age. Kristen is quick to specify that the goal is to help children become confident, have strong self-esteem, and know how to recognize and engage in healthy relationships. For girls, and those who identify as female, there is the TruSelf Empowerment program. This 8-10 week program works with fifth and sixth graders and involves activities that foster and support goal-setting, clear relational standards, and selfadvocacy (or standing up for oneself). They do yoga, journaling, art, and other creative activities that promote self-awareness and inner strength.
More recently, Kristen and her colleagues started the Mentoring Matters program. Trained and screened male community members volunteer to teach fourth through seventh grade participants a range of social-emotional skill sets. For example, they discuss how to manage difficult emotions, and how to develop and sustain positive relationships. As an incentive, the meetings are held at Adventure Commons once a month, and include free admission and dinner. Those who want to learn more about being a youth participant or a mentor can contact The Clove Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 815-932-7273. All of their programs and services are free, and participation is voluntary.
Both of these student programs aim to convey the message to kids that they matter, their voices matter. It is also important that the adults in their lives be educated and know how to advocate for and protect children. For that reason, other components of The Clove Alliance partnership include training teachers and community events with parents. Together, all of these different actors are working toward a day when sexual violence no longer exists. But in the meantime, they are giving themselves and each other the tools to minimize these incidents by nurturing students’ selfconfidence, relational skills, and social-emotional well-being. The hope is to help students become strong self-advocates and agents of change toward a brighter, safer future.