Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Anti Bullies: Rock Stars of Respect

Bullying is an important subject.  It is something that crops up in nearly everyone’s life, but is sometimes hard to pinpoint and often difficult to deal with.  Many people who experience bullying face dramatic, lifelong effects.  Sometimes a person who was bullied at a young age remembers that negative experience well into adulthood.  This memory can impact day-to-day life and how they interact with the world around them.  Even though the effects of being bullied can be quite severe, bullying often falls under the radar, is rarely reported, and bullies often face little or no consequences.

Rock Stars of Respect: Betty DeWhitt, Lori Schluttenhofer, Annie Smith, Heather Schullo, Ann Haumschild, Elain Howe, and Jamie Orndorff

Recently, a group of at Lifeworks has come forward to help educate their peers about bullying. The group consist of : Elaine Howe, Heather Schullo, Ann Haumschild, and Jamie Orndorff.  This group of self-advocates recognized that people with disabilities are often the targets of bullying and are often underprepared to protect themselves and others against bullies. The group’s many goals include: helping people prevent bullying, supporting the bullied, and in the end, to stop bullying altogether.  Their mission is to help people become Rock Stars of Respect!

This group knows firsthand the effects of bullying. Growing up with a disability can cause a person to be targeted.  Sometimes a disability can make it more difficult to defend against bullying.  For example, two of the members use wheelchairs, making it harder to leave a negative environment, and one uses an augmentative communication device, limiting her choice of words.  Ann Haumschild said,

“At some point you need to say stop, that is enough! People need to know how to tell people about bullying, to get help.”

With their experience in self-advocacy and by attending special summits on the subject of bullying, the group decided to help others.  With the support of Lifeworks Program Managers Lori Schluttenhofer and Betty Dewitt, and Client Services Coordinator Annie Smith, the plans were laid to create a presentation to share their knowledge with others who live with a disability.

 

Jamie Orndorff reviews her notes before the presentation.

The group decided that it was not enough to merely inform people about bullying.  They decided they would enroll people to become rock stars of respect.  They would get a pledge from each audience member, promising he or she would use the skills learned to tell others about bullying and how to protect against it. The presentation was planned to have many components to match the various learning styles of the audience as well as address the many facets of bullying.  It included both vocal and visual instruction, role-play, participation, and much from the audience.  The idea would be to get people really involved with the presentation to help them reach an “ah-ha” moment so they can take something away to use in everyday life.

Ann Haumschild takes questions from the audience at the 2011 Minnesota Self-Advocacy Conference

After the planning stage, the group practiced and presented to their peers at many Lifeworks locations.  These sessions were very popular, and led to many people taking the Rock Star of Respect pledge.  These presentations led to the group’s grand finale, a session at the 2011 Minnesota Self-Advocacy Conference. The presentation at the self-advocacy conference happened May 17, 2011 to a standing-room-only audience.  The majority of the people in the audience were, like the presenters, people with disabilities.  Dewitt, who was at the presentation taking visual notes for the audience to use during the discussion, had this to say about the presentation:

“What really struck me was what an emotional issue this is—it doesn’t matter how old the memories, being bullied lasts forever and the wounds run very deep.   This was evident in the discussions—everyone had stories to share and it became very emotional.  No longer is it a sense of embarrassment to be bullied—but a time to say “stop—that is not nice.”  What also came across was that it is everyone’s responsibility to stand up and make it stop.”

These comments were echoed by many others who witnessed the presentation.  Many of the people in the audience had knowledge about what to do if they were being bullied and shared it with others.  Maybe more importantly, It seemed that everyone learned a thing or two about what to do if they witnessed others being bullied.  Also, the conversation touched on what to do if the people in the audience were bullies themselves.

In the end it was a positive experience for both the audience and presenters.  Ann Haumschild had this to say about her experience:

“Bullying is a problem in our society. People tend to take this stuff on themselves. People keep it inside.  That’s not good.  People need to talk about it.  People can do it.  Now they have the tools.  They can do it!”

The important work continues.  There are still people out there who suffer from bullying and its effects.  The word still needs to spread and the mission remains: To help people become rock stars of respect.

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Write On! Lifeworks and Loyola High School

In October of 2010 handwritten letters started passing back and forth between Loyola High School and Lifeworks Mankato. Seventeen Loyola students from Valerie Koch’s class were paired with clients from Lifeworks using letter writing to foster inclusion, assist our clients with reading and writing, but most of all create an opportunity to share friendship.

Julia Bray puts the laptop aside to write a handwritten letter

The idea of having a pen pal dates back to World War II when classrooms of US children were matched with children in other countries. The goal of pen pal programs was to provide a window into different cultures, acknowledge differences, celebrate the similarities, and also encourage literacy. The goal remains the same today.

It has always been a thrill of mine to go to the mail box and find a hand written letter. Don’t get me wrong, I love the immediacy of email and I appreciate spell check, but there is nothing like sitting down to read and reread a hand written letter. Personal correspondence can capture the particular feelings of a time and place as nothing else can. Letters form a personal record of a life lived.

Valerie Koch, the teacher and our partner at Loyola, and I were looking for a way for her students to volunteer given the fact that it had to fit into the school day and the idea of the Write On program was born. Of course there were ground rules established to launch the program; no identifying information was shared like last names, phone numbers, email or home addresses. The information that traveled back and forth was basic, getting to know you types of questions like, what is your favorite color, what kind of music do you like, what is your favorite TV show, or how far have you ever traveled away from home?

Lifeworks client Chrissy Smisek chats with her Loyola High school writing partner

After months of corresponding we gathered in the gym at Loyola for a “meet and greet” party. I quizzed our clients as they walked from the parking lot to the high school and asked them what they thought about the Write On program. Their answers were exactly what I had expected them to say, over and over again I heard,

“It was fun. I liked getting letters, I got to know a new person, she liked movies and Justin Bieber too.”

There were a few awkward moments as pen pals were introduced to each other but soon the smiles were out in full force as the pen pals shared the snacks and reinforced the things that they had learned about each other.

I asked Valerie to poll her students about their experience with us. I asked her to check whether her students had also enjoyed the activity. One student said,

“Yes, it was fun writing and getting to meet my pen pal. It was fun meeting them in person and how they remembered a lot of things from my letters.” Another student answered, “Yes, well, doing volunteer work makes me feel value.”

I was curious to know if the students felt that they had learned anything about people with disabilities. The Loyola students responded,

“They really aren’t different from us.” “They share a lot of interests that I have.” “People with disabilities want people’s care and they want friendship just like I do.”

Finally I wanted to know whether this experience had changed their thoughts about people with disabilities and this answer confirmed that this was a good project.  Loyola students responded,

“It gave me more respect for them.” “I learned that people with disabilities like the same things that I do.”

Valerie and I are gearing up for the fall of 2011, the Write On project will definitely be a repeat. A typed or email letter can never provide the feeling that a hand written note brings. Each letter in an email is a laser copy of each other letter, there is emotional warmth that comes from handwriting. Thank you Loyola High School for volunteering with Lifeworks, enjoy the summer and we will write to you in the fall.

Written by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator, Lifeworks Services

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