SPEAK UP Middlesex County! Youth Violence Prevention Initiative Showcases Local Students’ Artwork

PERTH AMBOY — Last night, the Middlesex County Office of Human Services and the Center to Prevent Youth Violence (CPYV) hosted an exhibit at the Perth Amboy Gallery Center for the Arts showcasing artwork created by students from Perth Amboy and surrounding communities to promote SPEAK UP, a Middlesex County-wide youth violence prevention initiative. The theme of the exhibit was “You don’t have to be a superhero to save lives.”

The “hero” theme was the brainchild of a McGinnis Middle School student who was selected to take part in a SPEAK UP workshop this past summer. The goal of the workshop was to develop new program materials that would appeal directly to youth in Middlesex County. Participating students learned about SPEAK UP and were encouraged to create their own posters, advertising the program’s toll-free hotline for reporting weapon and violence threats. Their artwork served as inspiration for both the official Middlesex County campaign poster and the campaign’s overall design.

“I enjoyed learning about SPEAK UP and making artwork for the campaign at the workshop. I like SPEAK UP because it can help us, and we can use the SPEAK UP hotline if we know about threats,“ said Jennifer Soto, a Perth Amboy student who participated in the SPEAK UP workshop.

“Stopping youth violence is about listening to our young people,” said Freeholder Kenneth Armwood, Chair of the Community Services Committee. “I would like to thank all of the students, who by participating in the art show, are helping us get the word out about this very important program.”

“I am so proud to be working with students that look out for the interest of others. This anti-bullying campaign speaks volumes, as our students speak up for their peers- while exercising their freedom of speech and courage through art,” said Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz.

SPEAK UP Middlesex County is part of a nationwide initiative empowering young people to prevent violence by reporting weapon threats and threats of violence. Research shows that students often know about acts of weapon-related violence before they occur, but may not tell others because of social pressure or fear of retaliation. The centerpiece of the campaign is the SPEAK UP hotline and text messaging service, which Middlesex County students can use to anonymously report weapon threats or threats of violence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by calling 1-866-SPEAK-UP or by texting the keyword “HERO” to 847411.

“This initiative gives our students a voice,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios. “It also gives them the means to help protect their friends, schools and communities against violence.”

The hotline is supported and enhanced by a comprehensive mass awareness campaign that will include school-based promotions, as well as advertising on billboards and in local movie theaters and shopping malls. Funding for SPEAK UP is being made possible through an appropriation from the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant is being administered locally through the Middlesex County Office of Human Services.

“SPEAK UP is important because it helps save peoples’ lives and keeps kids who could be in danger safe. I would use the hotline to help people if I knew of a threat,” said Daniel Rosario, a Perth Amboy student who participated in the SPEAK UP workshop.

“The best part of this campaign is the buy-in and acceptance from the kids, they get the campaign. This is an avenue for the kids to have their voices heard and be productive if they know about a violence or weapon threat,” said Perth Amboy Police Chief Benjamin Ruiz who was in attendance.

Yesterday’s celebration marked the official launch of SPEAK UP in Middlesex County. The highlight of the evening came when local artist Juan Valdez Perez worked with kids in attendance to create a special painting based on SPEAK UP’s ‘hero’ theme. The finished piece will now be on display alongside the kid’s own artwork through the end of September at the Perth Amboy Center for the Arts.

The SPEAK UP Campaign was created in 2002 by The Center to Prevent Youth Violence, a non-profit organization working to end the crisis of youth violence in America. To date, the hotline has received nearly 40,000 calls. Please visit www.speakup.com for more information.

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