How Heartland for Children brought The Yellow Dress to Tampa Bay

Heartland for Children is the non-profit agency responsible for bringing The Yellow Dress play to The Tampa Bay area.

For more than five years, the local organization has worked directly with Deana's Educational Theater in Massachusetts to train local actresses and perform the play at high schools in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties.

Deana's Educational Theater produces the play, imposing strict guidelines and a long list of requirements to abide by.  Heartland for Children is one of only a few non- profits across the country, and the only one in Florida, allowed to produce the play.  

ABC Action News first learned of the play and Heartland during the 2012 Taking Action Against Domestic Violence campaign. Our special report on the journey of Bonnie Roebuck lead us to the discovery of The Yellow Dress.

Roebuck, who lost her only daughter to domestic violence, created Heather's Hope Foundation to help support local DV programs and the shelter in Lakeland where Bonnie's daughter lived…and died.

Asked what she considers the most important project the foundation has worked on, Roebuck said it was bringing The Yellow Dress play to Lakeland area high schools.  

Her daughter Heather was a school teacher.

"The very first time I saw The Yellow Dress I was very emotional. I was in tears, in fact." Explains Roebuck.

"I really do feel with all my heart that if Heather had had an opportunity to see The Yellow Dress, she most likely would have tried to get out of the relationship with Clay (Heather's husband)…"

Advocates at Heartland for Children agree with Roebuck and have partnered with the Lakeland foundation to touch the lives of teens across three counties. Roebuck's foundation raises money to pay for the expenses involved with live performances of the stage play at one high school after another. The rest, as they say, is history!

Kathie Graydon, Director of Education and Community Relations of Heartland for Children, points to statistics as proof positive of the play's effect on teens. In anonymous surveys after the play, Graydon says they've seen an 89 percent increase, "...in awareness of early warning signs, 86 percent of participants reported knowing how to help a friend that is a victim and how to access local resources, 81 percent of participants were more aware of how to help a friend who is a perpetrator of abuse, and 82 percent reported they now understood why victims stay in abusive relationships."  

Heartland's goal is to achieve a 90 percent increase in knowledge for each of the questions posed by their survey after each performance.

Since their first Yellow Dress performance at a school during the 2008 – 2009 academic school year, they've received 3,135 completed surveys. To learn more about Heartland for Children programs or the possibility of bringing The Yellow Dress play to your school, visit www.heartlandforchildren.org or call (863) 519 – 8900.

The notes and emails sent in from students and teachers are further evidence, say Graydon and Kim Daugherty, Chief Community Relations Officer of Heartland for Children.
Among their favorites:

- "I can honestly say it was an awesome play and I learned a lot. I just want to say she (actress) will save many lives."

- "It makes you realize that it's ok to speak out."

- "It helped me a lot. I've been in one abusive relationship and it helped me be grateful my parents called it off."

- "I have a sister who is an abuse victim and this has given me clarity on why she's still with her boyfriend. I didn't know that they left 4 – 9 times before they're through."

Heartland advocates take every opportunity to shine the light on "healthy" relationships as well. During the question and answer session at each school, they talk about respect, self-confidence and trust. What some teens might consider "romantic", Heartland advocates point out may be signs of an un-healthy relationship. They provide real-life examples and focus on what teens say back… as well as what they don't say! Advocates point to jealousy, ordering your food, tracking your online activities, buying you a cell phone, and constant communication via text or phone calls – as controlling behavior and possible warning signs.

"So are we saying all gifts are bad?" says Graydon referring to the cellphone gift.

"We get to why the boyfriend gave her the phone. It's all about the intent."

About the Yellow Dress Play: Since 1995, more than half a million young people and adults have witnessed the power of The Yellow Dress.

It is a one-woman play that describes the escalating emotional and physical abuse a young girl experiences in the weeks leading up to prom.

The play itself is based on a combination of true stories and written by Deborah Lake Fortson and originally

produced by Sydney Patten.

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