Hoopeston students' video raises awareness of violence

Hoopeston students' video raises awareness of violence

HOOPESTON – To a handful of Hoopeston Area High School students, Kimberly Gray, Jessica Stanton and Madisen Leverenz were only statistics of violent crimes, names in news reports.

Then they met the slain women's mothers, fathers and sisters late last year. They saw the relatives' tears and heard the pain in their voices as they talked about their loved ones' deaths and how that changed their lives.

"You don't think stuff like that happens here," said Tyler Rush, who will be a junior next year. "They're just regular people like you."

"It opened up my eyes to how violence can happen to anyone and how it can impact someone for the rest of their life," added Meagan Rosebraugh, who will also be a junior.

This past school year, the students – along with Alan Leigh and Robert Redmond, incoming juniors; Betsy Wagoner, an incoming senior; and Matt Morgenson, who graduated – were in Dan Reed's media class. The class collaborated with public health and social service agency officials to create a video, called "vi-o-lence", aimed at raising awareness about domestic abuse, elder abuse, sexual assault and bullying in Vermilion County, and the local services available to help victims and their families.

The project was funded by an Illinois Health Cares Vermilion County grant, a donation from Catholic Charities and an in-kind donation from the Vermilion County Health Department.

On Tuesday, officials screened the video to Hoopeston Area teachers at an end-of-the-year meeting. Now they plan to share it with the public, particularly those in health care.

"Doctors and nurses need to realize they may be the only lifeline for victims," said Linda Bolton, the health department's community relations and health education coordinator.

"We also want to raise awareness in the general public," Bolton continued, adding the video features interviews with "four average families ... who saw their lives turned upside down in a heartbeat. That's the insidiousness of violence. We hope the video makes people say, 'We won't accept this in our community.' The only way to stop it or curtail it is if we all work together to build a safer community."

The idea came from Amy Marchant, CRIS Senior Services' chief executive officer. Marchant, who wrote the grant, saw a similar video geared toward Chicago and wanted to create one for the county.

The students helped brainstorm ideas and questions for the more than 20 people who were interviewed. They also videotaped interviews, conducted by Bolton and Reed, and edited the material, which had to be edited down to 15 minutes.

"In the video, they're basically making impact statements to get people thinking," Reed said. Next fall, students will go through the tapes and make DVDs of the full interviews.

Interviews were conducted with police and other first-responders, crime victims' advocates and counselors, social service, mental health and school officials and others. Students were touched most by the family members.

They included Kathy Divan, mother of Mrs. Gray, who was shot to death in her Newtown home in 2005 by her husband, whom she had left; and Greg Williams, grandfather of 2 1/2-year-old Reagan Williams, who, authorities say, died in 2006 after being shaken. Also included were Jim and Kim Stanton, parents of Miss Stanton, who was stalked and fatally shot in 2007 by an ex-boyfriend, who then shot himself; and Liya Hussman-Rogers, sister of Miss Leverenz, one of three Danville residents who were shot to death in 2007.

When Divan cries softly as she recounts seeing her daughter's murderer in the couple's driveway, waving a gun at her and confessing to killing his estranged wife, Rosebraugh recalled getting quiet. Rush teared up, too.

They also were moved by the Stantons' story, and their regret that they weren't able to prevent their daughter's murder. "She was like my age," Wagoner said.

The students said the project will stay with them for a long time. It may even shape their future.

"I've always wanted to go into elementary education," Wagoner said, adding she still wants to do that but may focus on social work or counseling. "Hopefully I can be there for them and make a small impact on their lives."

More information

To request a viewing of the video, "vi-o-lence", call Amy Marchant, CRIS Senior Services chief executive officer, at 443-2999.

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