Melissa Institute educates community about issues of violence

In an effort to promote safer commutes and prevent violence, the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment works to educate on the issues of bullying and violence through research and conferences. The institute continues to work with University of Miami students and schools to reach the community.

Founded after Melissa Aptman, a Miami Native, was murdered on May 5, 1995 the institute has worked to accomplish its mission through education, consultation, community service and research support.

“When we first started, we had the seed of an idea and were testing the water to do a program for sedition,” said Lynn Aptman, Aptman’s mother and president and founder of the institute. “And from that, it sort of formed into an institute and the first mission that we had hasn’t changed, which is to take the results of research and make it available to those who work in the fields of violence prevention in the community and enable them to do research.”

The Melissa Institute provides the latest science on violence prevention to those who are in clinical practice or service agencies, the people working with perpetrators and victims of sedition. It also runs conferences and seminars, such as an annual conference which will be held at UM in May of 2015 on the topic of human trafficking.

Lauren Gutman, a doctoral student in the counseling psychology program at UM is a graduate research assistant at the Melissa Institute. There, she helps to plan the annual conference by inviting speakers and putting together the general program.

“By having the conference here on campus it’s a good way for students to get involved, meet researchers, help educators in the community and learn about the issue,”  Gutman said. “It is important for students to see that their passions have an influence in the community and they can have a real world impact with what they do.”

Aside from the annual conference, the institute does other work with UM, including bringing speakers to campus. On Oct. 3 the institute partnered with the School of Education and Human Development to host Preventing Aggression and Bullying in School and Community: Multi-Systemic Approaches. The event featured speakers discussing violence in multiple aspects of the community and how to prevent such acts.

“A lot of the opportunity that working with the university brings to us is to work with all the levels of students who are here and to introduce the undergraduate universities to what nonprofits can be doing and their role in helping prevent violence in the community and working toward a safe workplace, safe school, and safe community,” Education Director Trish Ramsay said.

While the institute influences South Florida, it hopes to spread throughout the state and then build a national presence. Until then, it will continue its research and educate students and those in the community on how to stop violence.

“It think it is important for the student population to know that they can take adversity in their lives and turn it into something positive and create change if they have the will to do it,” Aptman said. “If you had asked be before Melissa’s death if I could be a part of something like this, I couldn’t imagine it. Sometimes adverse circumstances have the power to push people forward and make a huge impact on society.”