Sarah’s Inn, a youth support organization in Oak Park, hosted a Back To School event at Columbus Park this past Saturday to inform the community on domestic violence, and to welcome community youth back to school.

A live DJ played some of the latest songs as Beatriz Albelo, Sarah’s Inn children and teen director, passed out plates of pizza, hot dogs, chips, and salsa to visitors at the park, 500 S. Central Ave.

As she bobs her head to the music, she explained that the planners of the event were the teenage girls walking around the park with the brown and pink “D.A.T.E ” T-shirts. Project D.A.T.E. is one of Sarah’s Inn teen domestic violence awareness programs.

“They wanted something to kick off the school year with, and we wanted it in Columbus Park because we knew we are opening a center in the Austin community in September of this year,” said Albelo.

Tables were set up for the participants, including an arts and craft table for children and teens to design their own back packs with paint, beads and different types of decorations.

Some girls painted their back packs with R&B teen star Chris Brown’s name all over it. There was also a table filled with games run by some of Sarah’s Inn staff. In addition, there was a table with information about domestic violence and the various resources offer by Sarah’s Inn, including its 24-hour crisis hotline number. The information covered all different types of abuse, including physical and mental. Women of all different ages were seen taking handouts from the table. Teen boys came out to the event as well, to listen to the music and eat food.

Although the weather was unstable on Saturday, it didn’t discourage many from coming to the event. A nice crowd came out to support Sarah’s Inn Back to School forum. Other attendees included Shiny the Clown and her trusty sidekick Grumpy, the 11-year old clown who volunteered to help support the back to school forum, and a spoken word group, OUTspoken, performing some of their poetry.

The clowns gave out balloons and told jokes while some danced or tended to an activity table where a teen advocate helped participants.

“I feel this forum is needed because I think people overlook the domestic violence that target the teens,” said teen advocate Jamal Porche. “Some go through daily abuse and they need help. We offer group counseling and one-on-one counseling. We have referrals for shelters and other resources.”

The event started at 1 in the afternoon, and continued until about 4:30, though it did rain for an hour during the event.

Devon, a member of Project D.A.T.E., who asked that her last name not be mentioned, explained how she learned about the group. With a wide smile she said, “I went to a teen meeting at Sarah’s Inn with a friend and fell in love with the program after that. Also, when training begins for new members, I will bring in a couple of my friends.”

Jessica Howe, Community Relations director for Sarah’s Inn, said the organization will branch off into Austin.

“We hope we can reach the Austin area and inform them that domestic violence is not a personal issue, it’s a community issue,” she said, “and we at Sarah’s Inn want to make some changes to end domestic violence.”

Sarah’s Inn main location is in Oak Park, based in an office with information and a referral service for women affected by domestic violence. Celebrating its 20th year in operation, the center has expanded its programs to offer training, workshops and presentations for other organizations, community members and schools.

The Project D.A.T.E. program brings youth speakers to elementary and high school classrooms to talk about domestic violence involving teens.

Sarah’s Inn also offers Abuser Intervention, a collaborative program with the Cook County courts, where men under a court order are required to attend 26 weekly sessions. Sarah’s Inn staff members conduct the sessions. Unlike the free services that Sarah’s Inn offer women, children, and teens, the Abuser Intervention project participants pay a fee.

For more information about Sarah’s Inn, its domestic violence programs, or Project D.A.T.E, call 708/386-3305.