NASHUA, NH – As a child, Jennifer Wright didn't understand the word "abuse." But she understood very well that the words spewed by her father, to make her feel small, were all wrong.
It would take many more years before she would understand that verbal abuse can hurt a child as much as physical abuse.
"When I was a little kid, I considered my dad this awful guy I was stuck with. Most of the time, people think of abuse as a man hitting a woman. I found out later that it's not just physical abuse that can hurt you," said Wright, an 18-year-old senior at Nashua High School North.
She said her father eventually left – or rather, her mother eventually left him, ending that painful chapter of Wright's abusive childhood.
Wright didn't realize until her teen years that the psychological damage done had sunk in deep and needed some undoing. Mostly, she needed to talk about her feelings, and understand that she was not to blame; nor was she alone.
That process, and some support through United Way's Youth Venture program and Nashua Community College, led Wright and a friend, Joella Stossel, to construct a 20-page business plan and eventually organize TADA – Together Against Domestic Abuse.
Tonight, Wright will be honored during a brief ceremony at City Hall. She will receive an engraved silver medalion recognizing her achievement as one of four outstanding New Hampshire youth volunteers, and one of the two top honorees who will be recognized in May during this year's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in Washington, D.C. The other, Sarah-Jean Sargent, is an eighth-grader from Raymond.
And her dedication to the issue of domestic abuse has also earned her a nod on the April 10 Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day page, as someone who's confronting problems, head on, in her community, with creativity and passion.
Her co-founder, Stossel, is currently a student at UMass Amherst. Wright will also being heading off to college next fall.
"I plan to study business management with a minor in English, and wherever I go, I want to take non-profit classes and definitely continue this organization," Wright said.
The mission of TADA is simple, said Wright: Educating teens on all forms of domestic abuse, including how to spot, prevent, and escape unhealthy relationships.
Wright and Stossel provide outreach and education to other young people, ages 12 -18, who are working their way through the emotional mire caused by physical and emotional abuse. They do outreach by traveling to youth and community groups and school health classes.
"Our main goal is teaching people to protect themselves, and we tell our stories," Wright said. "There's a lot of healing in that."
As a state honoree, Wright will receive $1,000 toward college and an all-expense-paid trip in next month to Washington, D.C., where she will join more than 100 other top honorees from around the country for several days of national recognition events. Ten finalists will be selected as America’s top youth volunteers for 2012 during that trip.
About the Award:
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), represent the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service.
All middle and high schools in the U.S., along with all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award last November. Two State Honorees — one middle and one high school student — plus a select number of Distinguished Finalists from each state and the District of Columbia were selected based on criteria such as personal initiative, creativity, effort, impact and personal growth.
For more information on the rest of this year’s Prudential Spirit of Community Awards State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists, visit http://spirit.prudential.com.