We’ve seen an alarming increase in domestic violence nationwide, another devastating impact of the pandemic. Locally, San Antonio police received almost 23,000 more calls for help with domestic violence cases in 2020 than the previous year. Community leaders are looking everywhere for solutions, investing millions in crisis response teams, case management and police support. Project Brave, a local nonprofit, is working to educate young children about healthy relationships to decrease their chances of entering toxic, abusive relationships as they get older.
Project Brave was founded in 2016 after Dr. Casey Mitchell was fatally shot in a tragic murder-suicide by her husband of one year. In the weeks that followed, as friends and family grieved unimaginable loss, they decided that her legacy would not end there.
“We just knew, this is not the end of her story, she would want to do more,” said Jill Cullinan, President and Co-Founder of Project Brave.
Another Co-Founder, Dr. Erica Shapiro, herself a social worker and licensed psychologist, raised the concept that kids learn relationship skills in elementary school, and they have fully developed their relationship skills by the time they reach sixth grade.
“Kids learn how to bully and what is acceptable and not by then, and they also learn how to put conditions on friendships at a very early age,” said Cullinan. “We decided to focus on kids in elementary school, to show them how to engage each other in healthy ways. Casey translates to Brave in Gaelic. We want to give kids the tools and skills when it matters most, to break the cycle before it begins.”
Project Brave focuses on six pillars: kindness, courage, community, empathy, self-awareness, and inclusion. The program provides elementary school counselors with a collection of curated, age-appropriate books to augment Social Emotional Learning curriculum. Project Brave also provides a tool kit, including a discussion guide and activities for the counselors to use. The books are frequently updated to address current issues and the collection also includes six books in Spanish, recognizing that words resonate differently in different cultures.
The program has been embraced by public, private and charter schools in five states – Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Washington. In San Antonio, Northside ISD, San Antonio ISD and South San ISD have all utilized Project Brave as have Great Hearts, St. Mary’s Hall, Keystone and San Antonio Academy.
As a small nonprofit run by volunteers, the support Project Brave has received through Social Venture Partners San Antonio has been invaluable.
“The SVP fellowship helped with board engagement and made it easier for me to step into the role of President, to harness our passion and convert it into empowerment and an action plan,” said Cullinan. “Everyone is so helpful and accessible.”
Catchafire has also been helpful to Project Brave, as they work to bring the six pillars to life through illustration. Catchafire connected the organization with a talented illustrator in New York City to design the first character, Kindness.
An entire library of books with the tool kit costs $400 – and a single library can impact over 500 kids. If you’re interested in supporting the work of Project Brave, visit their website at ProjectBrave.net.