Please note: Entries within this blog may contain references to instances of domestic abuse, dating abuse, sexual assault, abuse or harassment. At all times, Break the Cycle encourages readers to take whatever precautions necessary to protect themselves emotionally and psychologically.  If you would like to speak with an advocate, please contact a 24/7 peer advocate at 866-331-9474  or text "loveis" to 22522.

The Love Is Not Abuse Coalition Sparked Change in My Community

Guest Blogger Natasha Johnson, LINA ambassador

Have you ever felt like a flower trying to grow through concrete? Sometimes that’s how I feel as a teen dating violence and domestic violence advocate.

My name is Natasha: I am a sports fanatic, an animal lover, random movie quoter, bass fisher, silly & nerdy, and a pageant queen. I am also a survivor of abuse from my early 20’s. As a young adult, I was unable to fully grasp what abuse was and how to remove myself from that relationship. Realizing that abuse is not only physical, but also emotional, verbal, sexual, financial and now digital, I wanted to raise awareness and educate others on prevention, but it was hard to know where to channel my pain as a force for change. That was the biggest challenge at first - I had no idea where to even begin!

With a little research, I soon learned that emotional and verbal abuse seemed to lack the national attention that other forms of violence received. As I discovered Break the Cycle and their Love is Not Abuse (LINA) coalition, I began to understand that these forms of abuse greatly impact youth and it has a name…teen dating violence. I was shocked to learn that 1 in 3 young people experience some form of dating or sexual violence! How could so many young lives be impacted by such a difficult and painful experience?

Now knowing whom I wanted to help, my other challenge was figuring out how I could make a difference when I’m just one person with a passion to make a positive impact. Did I need to start with policy change in Washington D.C.? Did I need to be a large organization with donations and assets? The answer is NO. Break the Cycle and Love is Not Abuse helped give me the insight and tools to address an issue that I consider to be an epidemic. I used that knowledge and I decided to start – just like you can! – by simply wanting to help those in your community. See a need and fulfill it.

Natasha Johnson Teen DV Month

In my community, there is a local shelter that houses families impacted by domestic violence. It is a safety shelter, so these families often flee with limited personal belongings. Having something that belongs just to YOU gives you a sense of identity, so my family’s foundation, With One Word, starts small. I visit the shelter each week with reading books, coloring books, and art supplies in hand. I spend time with the children reading to them and distract them from their current surroundings. Each child receives items that they get to keep just for themselves. I wish you could see the smile on their faces for receiving a $1 coloring book. I wish you could hear the relief in a mom’s voice and the thank you for bringing their child happiness in such a difficult time.

But most of all, I wish you would know that no matter how small you think your voice may be, you too can have an impact with just a simple act of kindness right where you are. If you impact just one life for the better, that is enough!

I challenge you to think of where you can make an impact and join Love Is Not Abuse’s mission. Next week, on Monday July 25, 2016 we will bring LINA members together via weekly chat on Facebook to discuss how we work to end teen dating violence and stay up-to-date on the language teens use to communicate. These chats will inform LINA's work as they revamp existing resources and develop new ones. Together we can build a network of teachers, parents, and advocates all with one goal in mind: preventing and ending dating violence. You may feel small as one person, like a lone flower, but together we are an entire garden and we will change the culture of abuse! All you have to do is start somewhere.

Natasha Johnson is a LINA ambassador & cofounder of the With One Word Foundation. She is Ms. Woman North Carolina United States 2016 and will spend her year with the Miss United States Organization promoting her platform of Dating Violence Awareness in schools around North Carolina and nationally at the Miss United States pageant this August in Las Vegas. | Twitter/IG: @WithOneWordOrg