A group of moms and daughters sat around a conference table in the CARA administration office on a recent weeknight, eating Domino's pizza and brainstorming ways to promote the importance of parent-teen communication.

It was the first time any adults - aside from CARA STEP UP! Program Coordinator Martina Singleton - we're invited into the weekly STEP UP! meetings.

"I always say to her, 'What do you do when you are there? What do you talk about?'" Wildwood Crest resident Sandra Buda said of her 17-year-old daughter, Brianna, who sat beside her.

CARA stands for the Coalition Against Rape and Abuse, and Singleton is its sexual abuse program coordinator and its STEP UP! leader. Singleton started STEP UP! about a year ago as a way to "help teens to help other teens."

"Each One, Reach One," was always her motto. But lately she's realized a lot of teens' problems could have potentially been prevented if they had open communication with their parents.

"We're burying our teens, they're running away, they're shooting each other and the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear all this is, 'Was this a troubled teen?' Did anybody ever sit down with them and say, 'What's going on?'" she said. "Or is it that (we) parents are so opinionated and judging that they don't want to talk to us. They're afraid of how we'll respond, or they think they won't understand."

As a mother of a teenage daughter herself, Singleton said she knows agreeing isn't always easy.

"My daughter and I butt heads a lot," she said, "but we have to stop the separation and learn to work together. We have to learn to listen and not judge them, because if you're not willing to listen and talk to them, someone else will, and it may not be the best person."

The purpose behind inviting the adults into the STEP UP! group is to use them as role models to show other parents and teens can work together.

"If other parents and teens see parents and teens out there, making a difference together, we might just get somewhere," Singleton said.

Together the group will help plan fun fundraisers to support CARA's mission, the first being a bowling night March 10, "Strike Against Teen Dating Violence." The community is welcome to attend.

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-463-6713

If you go

What: "Striking Against Teen Dating Violence" Bowling Fundariser

When: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 10.

Where: 3 J's Wildwood Bowl, 3401 New Jersey Ave.

Cost: $20. All additional proceeds benefit CARA

For tickets or information about STEP UP! call Martina Singleton at 609-522-6489.