Also known as Ability Awareness Project
Ability Awareness Project began four years ago with two people: a behavioral psychologist and a composer. Kelly McKinnon Birmingham, MA, BCBA, is the Director of Behavior Intervention at the Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Santa Ana and I am Shadi Pourkashef, Composer, teacher and a mother. But not just any mother, one trying desperately to save my son from the horrendous ongoing peer bullying and the double-bullying of a school who, like many other schools, refused to really address the issue.
Kelly and I were board members of CAC, serving on the Ability Awareness Programs Committee at the Capistrano Unified School District. These wonderful programs teach tolerance, acceptance and understanding towards children with special needs. We were updating our list of speakers and programs when we realized it wasn't enough and that we needed to dig deeper into the issue of bullying.
We started operating under the 501(c)(3) status of Center For Conscious Creativity led by Founder, Kate McCallum. We learned that we needed to reach three distinct groups: the bully, the bullied, and the bystanders. We hired a crew to produce a set of original short videos that deal with the really hard to talk about subjects for each group and built a website, LearnToStopBullying, where we post these videos. We compiled information, including from StopBullying.gov, collected resources, and provided guidance for different audiences: the bully, the bullied, the bystanders, parents, and educators that each need to address the issue from a specific approach.
This information needed to be presented to schools to be useful. We were still searching and failing to find a speaker for schools who would teach all the ins and outs of bullying, plus teaching empathy, kindness, and to inspire all to come together as one... I decided to roll up my sleeves and do it myself!
So far, I have done over 20 school presentations for thousands of children. The reactions are as diverse as the kids themselves. Some enjoy my light bubbly personality, some cry on my shoulder after presentations and some say "I wish you were here 2 years ago, last month, last year." Overall it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Ms. Pooneh Khazei who is an experienced public speaker and writer has also joined us as a board member in 2017 so now we can reach more children, more parents and more schools.
Last year (2016), we also merged with StopbullyingOC led by Justin Phan, who now serves as one of our fabulous board members. They had already made hundreds of vigils of children who have committed suicide due to bullying with the help of the Scouts of Garden Grove. Unfortunately, they were destroyed by water while in storage 2 weeks before our first event in Laguna Beach in 2016. With the help of our donors, specifically Ragan Thomson-O'Reilly of Healing Hub Santa Barbara, we raced to complete a new set of vigils. These are made from fiberglass, and we reprinted and laminated all pictures and stories in time for our event in 2016. Sadly, we've had to add new ones again in 2017, as more children have committed suicide in the last year.
Key reasons we exist and do what we do:
Bullying related suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among children and teens
90% of 4th-8th graders experience some form of bullying or rejection
83% of girls and 79% of boys reported being bullied in school or online
Everyday, 160,000 teens skip school because of bullying
The bullies need as much help as the bullied
The bystanders, who have a huge impact on the outcome, need to understand their role while staying safe
75% of school shootings are directly linked to victims of bullying
Bullies tend to continue the trend of abuse and violence into adulthood:
By the age of 30, 40% of boys who bullied at school had been arrested 3 or more times.
As long as bullying continues, no one is safe.... and we believe the status quo is unacceptable.
OUR MISSION IS TO BUILD A UNITED INTERCONNECTED WORLD, FREE OF BULLYING.
Our Vision is to ensure that everyone is respectful and kind to one another and that no one suffers from social isolation and bullying.