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DAYTON — Incoming juniors at Tongue River High School Kiley Carroll and Natalie Stevens travelled with classmates to Washington, D.C., July 5-10 for the national Family, Career and Community Leaders of America competition. Competing alongside 8,000 other students, the girls pulled out a victory in their category.
“Expect Respect” was a presentation made to educate today’s youth on the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Carroll, having personal experience with the issue, explained how completing this project helped her realize the gravity of her situation.
“Going in, Natalie and I could’ve cared less about teen dating violence, we thought no one was going to be interested,” Carroll said.
Meeting with Rhonda Weber at the Advocacy and Resource Center, Stevens elaborated, Weber helped the girls to realize that teen dating violence goes beyond just physical abuse.
“When she described it, we realized we had both experienced teen dating violence,” Stevens said.
Although Stevens wasn’t ever romantically involved with Carroll’s abuser, she, as Carroll’s friend, found she was still exposed to that abuse. Stevens explained that the boy had threatened to call the cops on her when she got involved.
The realization helped the girls to add a personal touch to their project, as Carroll shared her story during the presentation.
“Without my experience I wouldn’t have been so passionate or dedicated, and I think it got attention (because) we know someone who went through this,” Carroll said. “Usually things like this feel so far away.”
This personal touch set the girls’ project apart. Carroll remembered the other projects in their category as mostly having to do with drunk driving or texting and driving.
“You don’t hear a lot about teen dating violence,” Stevens said. “When Kiley shared her testimonial, she talked about how you always hear ‘Don’t drive drunk,’ but you don’t hear a lot about how you should let people treat you.”
When their names were called for first place, neither Carroll nor Stevens were extremely surprised, but were, as Stevens said, “really, really grateful.”
Stevens expressed gratitude for FCCLA’s role in helping her overcome her shyness and become a leader, and Carroll was shocked to see how many people took their message to heart.
“To see so many [people] actually listening to two teenagers was breathtaking,” Carroll remembered.
Those gold medals were just icing on the cake for Carroll and Stevens. Concluding their presentation, the team was approached by several students who hadn’t realized the abusive nature of their own relationships until they were shown what it looked like.
The girls hope to continue spreading awareness throughout the community and will address their school board in the fall, seeking permission to share their story at Big Horn. Carroll also spoke of upcoming plans to hold an annual awareness week for teen dating violence within their school.
“I didn’t have anyone to [notice] the warning signs for me, so if I could be that person for one other, that’s the goal,” Carroll said.
When they weren’t busy competing, the girls both enjoyed their experience with the history and culture of the nation’s capitol, but Carroll was happy to return.
“I’m so glad to be home,” Carroll said. “It was beautiful, but it’s nothing like Sheridan.”
By Kaylin McKinley