The Movement 

The United States loses on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect. This is one of the worst records among industrialized nations. The effects of child abuse are devastating because the abuse occurs in the early developmental stages of a human being’s life. Some of these effects include: smoking & drinking at an early age, depression, suicide attempts, illicit drug abuse, alcoholism and alcohol abuse, risk for intimate partner violence, early initiation of sexual activity, unintended pregnancies.

Growing Strong started as a short film to illustrate the impact of the physical and emotional child abuse and to suggest a path for healing. With time, we realized that the issues related to child abuse needed a bigger platform to reach wider audiences. This led to the creation of the Growing Strong Movement. The goal of the movement is to spread awareness about child abuse by educating people on the negative effects of abuse and how those impacted by it can heal. Our first initiative is a series of interviews with subject matter experts on child abuse located on our VLog page. Please Subscribe below to stay informed about our initiatives.

If you have a personal story on how child abuse impacted your life, please share it with us here.

For more info on child abuse statistics & facts, please visit

The Film 

A physically and emotionally abused girl escapes home in an attempt to find refuge at her free-spirited grandmother's horse farm.

Director's Statement

I wrote and later directed/produced “Growing Strong” while pursuing an MFA in Cinema at DePaul University in Chicago.  The entire process, from writing the logline to finalizing the director’s cut took about a year and a half of extremely hard work, many sacrifices, even broken bones.  Despite the difficulties of making a student film, we managed to put together an amazing team of women and men, find incredible actors,  and zero in on spectacular locations for where to film the story.  When I reflect back on the entire production process, I can summarize it by saying that “Growing Strong” is a film that was ‘meant to be.’  Somehow, someway, I felt guided to the right people, the right places, the right resources.  

In the story, physically and emotionally abused girl finds refuge at her grandmother’s horse farm and begins to heal from abuse inflicted on her by her father.  As such, one of the most important tasks during pre-production, aside from casting, was to find an old farmhouse suitable for the story.  As serendipity would have it, a friend called a friend and, during our second scouting trip to Kentucky, we secured Caledonia Farm where we shot the majority of scenes.  While filming, a local newspaper journalist named Paul Gibson came to interview me, and later stated in an article: “Ironically, Caledonia Farm LLC was previously owned and operated as the Bethlehem Farm and dedicated to helping women in racing rehab their lives from alcohol, drug, and physical abuse (…).”

I felt called to make “Growing Strong” because I had lived through the experience of physical and emotional abuse as a child, and its many not so colorful consequences.  PTSD including addictions and anxieties tormented me for many years.  Yet, I didn’t realize that there was a connection between my self-destructive behaviors as an adolescent and young adult, and the abuse I endured during childhood.  I just remember feeling a lot of pain and really not knowing where it was coming from.  It took years of therapy and healing to finally connect the dots.  My hope is that by watching “Growing Strong” audiences will take away an understanding that physical and emotional abuse psychologically wounds the child, and also that an inward spiritual journey is a viable path for healing.

- Rita Ciolek

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