Looking to use her legal expertise to fight domestic violence, attorney Stephanie Nilva ’88 in 2003 launched the nonprofit organization Day One, which serves young people in New York City. She’s been its executive director since the beginning.
Over those years Day One has become a leading local voice in the battle against dating abuse and domestic violence for people ages 24 and younger. Taking a comprehensive approach, the organization works both to prevent domestic violence and support its survivors. Day One provides legal representation and counseling to survivors, trains youth to be peer educators, conducts workshops for adults and for students in their own schools, and advocates for better public policy and more support in the fight.
Day One social workers, embedded in eight city high schools, educate and counsel students about dating abuse and healthy relationships. Day One educators regularly visit a number of middle schools to provide similar help.
Nilva draws hope and energy for the work from Day One’s successes and from the progress she’s seen in society. She points to action against campus sexual violence undertaken by the Obama Administration and by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the #MeToo movement.
“We’re in an environment where, I think, change is happening quickly, I think awareness is shifting, and people’s tolerance for controlling and abusive behavior is dropping, and so people are more likely to seek help and more likely to find help. Which is great,” she says.
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In a major new push, Day One in 2017 reached into elementary schools. “That K-through-five element really speaks to children who are developing the capacity, the language, the skill, to build their first healthy relationships, which are really your friendships, right?” Nilva says. “So for the young people, we’re teaching them how to treat others with respect. And yes, that does mean not to harm others in addition to identifying when you might be at risk.”
The agency is advocating hard for New York state to require its public schools to educate students about healthy relationships. Another big Day One initiative is to expand its training of youth leaders and educators.
“Peer-to-peer learning is proven to be the most effective way that young people are going to absorb information, so we get twice the value by building leadership capacity among youth to educate fellow students, who are going to listen better and absorb better when information is coming from their teenaged friends?” she says.