'Project Brave' books teach children about toxic relationships, how to avoid them

Organization aims to stop domestic violence, starting with young children

By Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter, Robert Samarron - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - It is a mission of change born out of tragedy.

March 11 marks the third anniversary of Dr. Casey Mitchell's death.

Her husband killed her and then himself in their home on the North Side. Friends said days before she opened up to her Bible group about being in a violent relationship. It was a fact nobody previously knew.

The devastating loss led Casey's friends to create an organization they hope will prevent domestic violence for future generations.

"I spent close to eight years in an escalating situation and then to the point where it was a highly abusive relationship," said Casey's friend Jill Cullinan.

Cullinan escaped her abusive relationship, but years later, her close friend and neighbor wasn't able to do the same.

She said she has had to work through survivor's guilt since Casey's death.

"How did I get out of this after eight years and my sweet friend did all the right things, highly educated, amazing, amazing human being, and she was in a relationship for a year and a half and she didn't get out?" she said.

It pushed Cullinan and Casey's other friends to do something about it.

"We needed to rewrite her ending. We weren't going to let her go down like that. That's just not how Casey would have wanted it," Cullinan said. "Children flocked to her and so that was why I really wanted to do something with kids.

Through research, Cullinan learned relationship skills are developed between the ages of 6 and 10 years old.

"We don't talk to kids until we think about relationships, which is middle school and high school and we're really trying to undo patterns at that point," she said.

So she co-founded "Project Brave," a unique program using books to teach elementary school students about toxic relationships and how to safely get out of them.  

The program donates libraries of 24 books for grades K-5.

"Every library, we estimate that it gets to about 500 kids. They are at schools, they're at child focus centers, Haven for Hope, SA Youth, Ecumenical Center," Cullinan said.

Inside the front of each book are stickers that show what subjects the book will cover. In the end of each book is a list of discussion questions. Those questions differ for each book, depending on its subject and reading level.

The Project Brave board consists of psychology and counseling experts who consult with the counselors and teachers using the books.

The organization is also developing a bilingual library for Spanish-speaking families.

The goal isn't just to stop children from becoming victims of abuse later in life.

"It's also highly probable it will maybe prevent somebody from becoming that toxic person, helping to break that cycle for them," Cullinan said.

She wants to create a kinder generation that Casey would be proud of.

If you are interested in bringing Project Brave to your school or center, you can find contact information on the web site by clicking here.

Anyone experiencing domestic violence can head to www.ksat.com/domesticviolence.
There is a list of resources and a new feature where anyone can anonymously submit questions about domestic violence or about Loving in Fear stories.

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