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First Ascent students shed light on sexual abuse

Ryan Graff
Special to the Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – For sexual abuse victims, the effects of abuse can last a lifetime.

In a new educational video, “Bring it to the Light,” students of First Ascent Youth Leadership Academy lift the cloak that often covers this topic and help people affected by sexual abuse.

Thirteen middle and high school students from CMC’s eight-county region are part of First Ascent, created by Mariana Velasquez-Schmahl, youth outreach coordinator at Colorado Mountain College.



“They chose the topic and the video project because they felt that was the way they could best carry their message,” Velasquez-Schmahl said.

The group decided to produce a video on sexual abuse after brainstorming from a list of more than 80 topics because it was the most challenging. And sexual abuse is covered less in the media than other kinds of abuse, according to high school student John Donovan of Carbondale.



First Ascent students were responsible for almost every facet of video production, including research, writing, shooting and acting.

Editing the video was left to local award-winning filmmaker Terry Glasenapp, who worked closely with the group on the video’s production.

The video runs about 10 minutes and features students interviewing local sexual abuse counselors, students enacting scenes of youths dealing with the effects of abuse, and statistics regarding abuse.

Glasenapp hopes the video will help others deal with and avoid sexual abuse by bringing the topic into the open.

“We need to bring it out into the open,” he said. “Part of the healing process is being able to talk about it.”

`Bring it to the Light’

The video’s title, “Bring it to the Light,” comes from an interview with counselor Barb Chambliss of Carbondale. In the video, Chambliss stresses the importance of teens being open about the topic of sexual abuse.

The beginning of the video depicts several First Ascent students, from 13 to 16, acting despondent, ashamed and isolated. Statistics printed on poster board, such as, “In this country, there is a rape every five minutes,” come on the screen.

About half-way through the video, First Ascent student Noe Duran, sitting with a group of other students, looks in the camera and says, “While you’ve been watching this video, someone has been raped.”

The students offer tips, directly through therapists, counselors and Basalt chief of police Keith Ikeda, to help friends who may have been abused. And they explain that males as well as females can be sexually abused.

“I didn’t know guys could get sexually abused,” says student John Donovan in the video. “But one in six guys 16 or under has been sexually abused.”

Mostly, the video stresses the importance of helping friends who might have experienced abuse, and for teens to get help themselves if they’ve been sexually abused.

First Ascent learning leadership

Mariana Velasquez-Schmahl said she started First Ascent Leadership Academy to complement a week-long youth leadership conference held for the past nine summers at CMC’s Timberline campus in Leadville.

The goals of First Ascent are aimed at personal growth and fostering interaction among group members, according to Donovan, a First Ascent student.

First Ascent is a big confidence builder, he said. It enables students to learn patience, see themselves in a different light, and “learn how to learn from others.”

Students are selected to participate in the year-long First Ascent Youth Leadership Academy after participating in the summer conference and writing an essay on why they would be an asset to the year-long group.

The group meets one weekend a month from September through May at CMC’s Spring Valley campus, and focuses on activities that help students learn to come to a consensus, complete goals, learn conflict resolution, develop leadership and think outside the box.

“The key to the project is they take what they learn, such as consensus building, and use it as they go through the process of participating in the group,” Velasquez-Schmahl said. “It’s really cool. It really works.”

Velasquez-Schmahl said she will be sending a copy of “Bring it to the Light” to each middle and high school within CMC’s eight-county region, and encourages counselors to view the video and share it with students. To obtain a copy, contact her at 947-8357, or Terry Glasenapp at 945-6303.

“We’d like to share this video with programs or individuals who might benefit from it,” she said.

– GSPI Staff Writer Carrie Click contributed to this report.


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