When Jackeline Muniz was 16 years old, she sought counseling at Martin Luther King High School, where she was a student, to help her get out of an abusive relationship.
The fighting caused her to miss class, get bad grades, and nearly cost her high school graduation.
For help, Muniz turned to the Relationship Abuse Prevention Program (RAPP) in her school, which helps teenagers combat relationship abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and bullying.
“The way that the RAPP program helped me was it helped me to work through that relationship,” she said. “It helped me work through things on my own, to get to know myself better, to build up my self-esteem so I could get out of that relationship.”
However, for several years in a row, including in the 2012/13 fiscal year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed cutting the program’s $3 million in funding out of his executive budget.
Now the organizations that put the program together, including the Center Against Domestic Violence, STEPS to End family Violence/Edwin Gould Services for Children & Families, and CAMBA, a non-profit agency that helps New Yorkers improve their quality of life, are urging the City Council to once again restore its funding
“To have a place where kids could go and just talk, it was something that was just beautiful,” Muniz, who now lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, said of her experience with RAPP. “To have someone who was always there, you know you can always count on, it was such a good thing.”
Muniz said she started out receiving individual counseling through RAPP and eventually moved on to help her peers.
Part of RAPP, which currently serves 50,000 students in 62 middle and high schools throughout the city, is a summer program in which students are trained to be peer counselors.
As a peer counselor, Muniz took trips with her classmates around the city, such as to go bowling or see a Broadway show. The students also hosted holiday parties.
In addition, Muniz spoke in classrooms and community centers about her experience getting out of an abusive relationship.
However, she said the most important part of going to RAPP was that it enabled her to graduate high school on time, succeed in college, and become a professional teen counselor.
She graduated from City College with honors in 2009, with a Bachelor’s in Sociology and Women’s Studies, and then pursued her Master’s degree in social work, which she finished last June.
Now, Muniz is a RAPP coordinator at Franklin K. Lane High School on the border of Queens and Brooklyn in Cypress Hills.
Muniz teaches students about problem-solving and communicating in relationships. The program also holds sexual assault and rape workshops at the school.
“We teach about healthy relationships,” she said.
“I’m also a role model for them,” Muniz said, because she shares a similar background with her students and is now a successful adult.
One thing that she sees as a RAPP counselor is the cycle of domestic violence. Kids experience it at home, and then perpetuate the behavior because it’s what they’ve been taught, Muniz said.
“A lot of these kids think that these things are okay,” she said, “that these things are normal.”
If the program is cut, the government would have to spend more money helping domestic violence victims and RAPP coordinators could lose their jobs, she said.
“I think that a lot of kids would probably end up in abusive relationships in the future,” Muniz said.