“The world needs your voice,” begins “Say Something,” an illustrated children’s book by Peter H. Reynolds. “It doesn’t need to be perfect, as long as it’s from your heart.”

Last week, New Hope Midcoast, an advocacy and support group targeting domestic violence, visited third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms at Fisher Mitchell School in Bath, using books like “Say Something” to introduce students to concepts like standing up for struggling peers. Through age-appropriate lessons on inclusivity, empathy and boundary setting, the group hopes to prepare the next generation for future conversations on domestic violence, which they say has spiked in Maine during the pandemic.

“We really want to lay that groundwork,” said Allison Fortin, a youth educator & advocate for New Hope Midcoast. “Those are skills and topics that they’re going to really need and build off of as we progress to middle school and high school, and we start talking about really heavy topics.”

Allison Fortin, a youth educator & advocate for New Hope Midcoast, taught 12 40-minute lessons to third, fourth and fifth grade classes at Fisher Mitchell School last week. Contributed / Allison Fortin

New Hope Midcoast, formerly called New Hope for Women, provides legal advocacy, housing and support services for victims of domestic violence in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties, according to Executive Director Rebekah Paredes.

Like Maine’s eight other Domestic Violence Resource Centers, New Hope Midcoast has seen an uptick in the number of people seeking help since the beginning of the pandemic, she said.

In the year prior to the pandemic, the organization received just under 1,200 calls on its 24/7 helpline, Paredes said. Last year, over 2,200 people called the helpline, the most in the group’s history.


Part of the jump may be a sign that New Hope has reached more people who already needed assistance, Paredes said. But she added that strain from the pandemic has also likely exacerbated the problem of domestic violence.

“There’s always some pre-existing power and control imbalance within the family unit, which is where domestic abuse is based off of,” she said. “But there’s also this added increase in stress.”

Over 13,000 Mainers received support from a Domestic Violence Resource Center in 2021, according to Karen Wyman, Prevention and Intervention Director for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence​. She noted that the actual number of people suffering from domestic and dating violence in the state is likely significantly higher.

While this issue may seem far removed from a children’s book about empathy, Wyman and the New Hope team agreed that age-appropriate education could shape how today’s kids react to future lessons more specifically targeting domestic violence.

“Much of our work in responding to domestic abuse is after it happens,” Wyman said. “Our prevention education efforts are really getting at trying to change the conditions in our communities, including in our schools, that allow abuse to happen and go unchallenged. It builds a habit of respect and trustworthiness with peers, with other adults, with everyone in the community.”

New Hope has offered 89 presentations in schools since the beginning of the current school year, reaching more than 1,800 students, according to Paredes.

At middle and high schools, Fortin presents on potentially challenging topics like abuse and consent, she said. But her visits to elementary and pre-schools, which usually involve a group discussion about a children’s book and a related creative activity, tend to engage students and inspire them to implement New Hope’s lessons.

“I think a lot of kids really like having the space in a safe and respectful setting where they can have these conversations,” she said. “Overall it’s been really positive.”

Mainers who are suffering from domestic abuse, dating violence or stalking can call the Midcoast helpline at 1-800-522-3304 or the Maine helpline at 1-866-834-4357, or visit newhopemidcoast.org.

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