High school club aims to bolster healthy relationships

When Riverhead’s Aela Bailey joined Teen Leadership Council in tenth grade, she thought she was just joining for community service credit, but she learned so much more.

The experience Aela gained with that organization inspired her to make a difference at Riverhead High School and in the local community by establishing the Healthy YOUniversity club.

 Launched last November, the club’s purpose is to spread awareness of the prevalence of dating violence and encourage students to more positively manage relationships, friendships and stress.

“I was able to learn so many things in [Teen Leadership Council] about red flags, learning [about] manipulation. It kind of helped me realize what I was going through and kind of put a name to a face,” Aela said.

According to Domestic Violence Services Inc.,nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year. The organization also reported that one in three girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

Riverhead High School Alumn, Aela Bailey. (Credit: Melissa Azofeifa)

Healthy YOUniversity started with three members and now has 15. Aela credits the help of high school social worker Kathleen Timpone, the support of high school principal Sean O’Hara, as well as the support of her friends and family, for the club’s success. This school year, the group plans to meet once a week, using with session content that comes directly from the domestic violence prevention group The Retreat and from One Love Foundation.

Club discussions are curriculum-based, but to set them apart from other school lessons, Aela said, meetings include activities like group circles, which help create a safe space where peers can talk about the sensitive topics that come with relationship violence.

Aela graduated in June and will study prelaw and political science at Northeastern University in Boston starting next month. Her sister, Maeve, a junior at the high school, will assume her leadership role at Healthy YOUniversity. However, Aela hopes to continue participating virtually.

“The district is incredibly proud to have our students using the knowledge they gain from leadership experiences to positively impact their school, peers and community,” said Riverhead Superintendent Augustine Tornatore. “The members of Healthy YOUniversity — and especially their founder, Aela Bailey — have demonstrated exceptional initiative and compassion. We look forward to the positive influence this club will continue to have on Riverhead High School and the Riverhead community.”

Aela said the response she’s gotten from students and the community has been incredible.

“It just means everything to me just to see that I’m making a difference,” she said. “I truly believe in the saying, ‘Leave it better than you found it,’ and I just feel like that’s what I did at my school. My ultimate goal was just to create a safe space for people.”