SPRING VALLEY — An area girl is using her experience with bullying to protect other children from the same occurrence.
Jeralyn Cunningham and her daughter, Emily, have created a new organization to address the problem of bullying in the schools.
“We have been contemplating this — my daughter, Emily, and I — for the last couple of years,” Cunningham said. “She has gone through a little bout with some bullying, and she always wanted to do this.”
The name of the new organization is C.A.B. “Communities Against Bullying,” and its mission is to raise awareness, promote a sense of understanding and compassion for others, and encourage faculty, students, parents and communities to advocate consciousness that bullying is a very real concern.
Cunningham said about 10 to 15 people have already joined their group, which is holding an event next week in recognition of National Bullying Day.
The event, designed for children in junior high and younger, will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at the Echo Bluff Park just south of Route 29 between Spring Valley and DePue. In addition to free hot dogs and drinks, there will be face painting and a balloon launch to honor the children who have taken their lives as a result of bullying. Cunningham said they also have bracelets bearing the message “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully.”
Guest speakers will include Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson and state Senate candidate Christine Benson, who will talk about her experiences with bullying as a school superintendent.
Also speaking will be Betty Hoeffener, co-founder of Hey U.G.L.Y., which stands for unique, gifted, lovable you. Hey U.G.L.Y. is an organization that is dedicated in helping youth with self-esteem and empathy-building programs to empower them to be a part of the bullying solution.
Cunningham said the group is trying to raise funds to bring American Idol contestant Devyn Rush to some area schools to sing and to speak about her experiences being bullied in middle school.
Cunningham said the response to the group has been tremendous.
“We’ve been growing every day,” she said. “Our Facebook page just kind of took off.”
Cunningham said the problem with bullying is a lot bigger than what people anticipate.
“There are some children that can deal with it more than others, and I think sometimes that our kids get so beat down that it just kind of takes a little of their self-esteem away from them,” she said. “It’s so hard for our children to go to school and to grow in this day and age now without having to be picked on and degraded constantly.”
And the impact of bullying doesn’t always go away.
“I’ve been getting phone calls and in-box messages from parents who were bullied,” she said. “They’re resurfacing, telling their stories about how horrible it was, and how they never forget it.”
While bullying has always been around, Cunningham said it’s taken on new dimensions with cyber-bullying, text messaging and Facebook. She said television also promotes bullying.
“What it’s promoting, what is good, is the mean girl,” she said. “The mean girl is the popular girl.”
Cunningham said awareness of bullying is growing. For example, Secret deodorant has a new campaign out, called Mean Stinks, to combat girl-to-girl bullying.
Cunningham said awareness of bullying also needs to be taught to parents.
“The parents need to know they have to teach their children to respect others, and get involved,” she said.
Another problem is that some of the parents were bullies themselves.
“Bullies are bullied, and it’s contagious,” she said.
Cunningham said many organizations are supporting C.A.B. including the Bureau/Putnam County Community Partners Against Substance Abuse group, who will attend Monday’s event.
Word about C.A.B. has spread through flyers that were sent to schools in Cherry, Ladd, Dalzell, Spring Valley and DePue, and through the Facebook page. Cunningham said she has already heard from people in LaSalle and Putnam counties who also want to be involved.
“Bullying is everywhere,” she said. “I think this is going to be an amazing thing for our little community.”
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