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Jana's Campaign: Parents Continue Work of Murdered Daughter
Purple Ribbon Award-winning foundation started to honor activist Jana Mackey
- Nov 08, 2021
This article highlights one of the winners of The Purple Ribbon Awards, an annual program developed by Theresa's Fund, DomesticShelters.org and experts in the field to honor the countless heroes of the domestic violence movement, including advocates, programs, shelters, survivors and members of the community support system. Learn more about the Purple Ribbon Awards here.
Jana Mackey was a social justice and women’s activist who wanted to make the world a safer place. Unfortunately, on July 3, 2008, Jana’s life was cut short at only 25 years old due to domestic violence perpetrated by her ex-boyfriend three weeks after she broke up with him.
Jana’s parents, Drs. Christie and Curt Brungardt, co-founded Jana’s Campaign in honor of their daughter—to make her goals of equality, love, and justice a reality. We spoke with Kaiti Dinges, MPS, executive director of Jana’s Campaign, to learn more about Jana’s Campaign and the difference it’s making in the lives of students, educators, survivors and the community.
Drs. Brungardt are both Emeritus Professors of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, where the organization is headquartered. The couple travels the country speaking on the Campaign’s values of promoting gender and partner violence prevention and healthy relationship behaviors.
“Our co-founders and key volunteers, Drs. Christie and Curt Brungardt, are important and vital to our work and mission. They dedicate a significant amount of time to assist in all aspects of our programming. From delivering presentations themselves, to reviewing marketing materials and publications, Jana's Campaign would not be the organization we are today without them,” says Dinges. “In addition to the co-founders, our working board provides support, guidance, and expertise in all realms of nonprofit functioning and within the field of gender and relationship violence.”
What Jana’s Campaign Does
The primary focus of Jana’s Campaign is prevention education, which they provide to three audiences: secondary schools (middle and high schools); colleges and universities; and the community, which includes agencies and citizens.
“All of our work is prevention education,” Dinges said. “We’ve been able to do a lot of big things, although we have a very small team.”
Jana’s Campaign in Middle and High Schools
For secondary schools, Jana’s Campaign offers education about healthy relationships, how to help friends if they’re experiencing violence and also provides local resources at schools and in their community. It’s important to the campaign staff to share Jana’s story and work to continue her goal of safety for everyone.
“A lot of time students come up to us after presentations and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I finally have a language to use in discussing these things that I or my friends have experienced.’ It’s really nice to be able to have that opportunity to give students this language,” Dinges recalled.
Jana’s Campaign also offers a classroom curriculum from SafeDates, an evidence-based program. They offer free training via grants to teachers, workers, advocates, social workers and anyone who works with young people. Their programming includes gender identity-specific classes, where trainers speak to students about the different roles they can play based on their gender identities to prevent violence.
“When students feel comfortable talking about these issues, educators are thinking ‘I know I can talk to my students about this, and I feel grateful that they can feel comfortable coming to talk to me about it now,’” Dinges said, appreciating the opportunity to provide a universal language to speak about dating and domestic violence.
Jana’s Campaign created a Youth Advisory Council to help them reach even younger audiences. “We had students come up to us and say that we were starting too late, that we needed to start having these conversations earlier,” Dinges recounts, speaking to the creation of the Youth Advisory Council. “As we age, the language changes. We wanted to make sure the language we use is relevant as well as the information within our presentations are hitting the high points for younger students.”
Jana’s Campaign is currently recruiting Youth Advisory Council members in Colorado and Nebraska.
Jana’s Campaign Mini-Grants for Students
The campaign also offers a “mini-grant” program, where students can apply for a small grant to be used for projects that increase violence awareness and prevention. “Because the co-founders teach leadership, we really believe in that service learning,” Dinges explains. “That’s what the mini-grants are really all about—putting knowledge into action.”
Students fill out a simple grant application to provide real world experience and, once their project is complete, are required to report about the outcome, such as how many people were impacted by the project. As of 2021, Jana’s Campaign has given out 111 mini-grants across seven states, ranging from Washington to North Carolina.
Dinges tells us about one of the more memorable projects, where students from a small town near Hayes worked with their high school drama teacher to learn monologues and acts from plays, as well as poetry that related to domestic violence. The students then coordinated with Jana’s Campaign to perform at the Hayes Community Artwalk, which they did two years in a row. Dinges recounts one student reciting the poem Today I Got Flowers by Paulette Kelly, which begins:
I got flowers today!
It wasn't my birthday or any other special day. We had our first argument last night;
And he said a lot of cruel things that really hurt;
I know that he is sorry and didn’t mean to say the things he said;
Because he sent me flowers today.
I got flowers today….
Today was a special day—it was the day of my funeral;
Last night he killed me;
If only I would have gathered the courage and strength to leave him;
I could have received help from the Women’s Shelter, but I didn’t ask for their help;
So I got flowers today—for the last time.
“Having high school students wanting to do something like that is really powerful,” Dinges said. “They’re from a very small town, a conservative area. But it’s so awesome to hear the students say ‘No, we need to talk about these things. Look how powerful this can be and what can happen if we don’t talk about it or have an understanding of what this issue can be.’”
Other mini-grant projects have included regular by-stander intervention training, Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities, public service announcements, poster contests and art competitions.
Jana’s Campaign Campus Safety Summits
For colleges and universities, Jana’s Campaign provides similar programs tailored to the audience, such as gender-based violence prevention and bystander education training. They also host four regional campus safety summits in Kansas City, Denver, Houston and Chicago.
“The purpose of the summits is to provide training to college administrators, faculty staff and even students who are interested in responding and preventing gender-based violence better,” Dinges explains. The longest running summit averages about 200 to 220 attendees, while newer summits see about 85 to 125 attendees each year. Jana’s Campaign recruits national experts and best practice practitioners to provide keynote panels, breakout sessions and workshops.
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“We’ve seen abuse and violence swept under the rug so often, but I think—and I hope—that colleges and universities are trying to do better for their students by making sure that they're providing the necessary tools and resources,” Dinges said.
Educating the Community
While Jana’s Campaign can provide any of their educational resources and presentations to the community, they also offer specific training for maintaining a healthy and safe workplace. “Policies and procedures need to be in place because we know if a victim of domestic violence leaves their partner and gets a new home or apartment, the one thing that stays the same is the workplace,” Dinges explained. “So that potentially makes the workplace very dangerous for them and also all of their coworkers. A lot of mass shootings are connected to domestic violence in the workplace. Making sure there are procedures and policies in place keeps everyone safe.”
This is just one example of the great work that Jana’s Campaign is doing to honor the memory and work of its namesake. As Jana’s friend Brian Thomas puts it, "I can't recall a single moment that I knew Jana when she wasn't trying to make the world a better place for all of us. She never slowed down; she never gave up."
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