Like 41 per cent of kids in grades 4 to 7, Alicia has experienced bullying. “I was 8 years old, kids would chase me, follow me around, scream mean things at me. It made me feel really alone. School was supposed to be a safe place but they made it very unsafe for me,” recalled 19-year-old Alicia.
It had a profound effect in her life; she became someone she didn’t want to be: a bully. “At 12 I started getting into fights, by 14 I was fighting all the time. When I was bullying, I didn’t feel good but I figured if people were scared of me I wouldn’t have to worry about being bullied,” she said.
Today the smart, articulate teenager has come full circle and is passionate about changing the future for others. Through a United Way supported program Alicia is teaching young kids about bullying and discrimination.
Her journey is a remarkable one. By her early teens she had lost her friends and was back to being a sad, and lonely child again. She took a hard look at where she was going and realized she wanted to change. Thankfully, teachers at her school recognized this and placed Alicia into a mentorship program to help children transition into high school. It wasn’t only the school teachers who recognized Alicia’s potential.
“Every once in a while you come by a kid that just shines with potential and it means so much when we get the opportunity to make something of that,” said Erin Cardona, Coordinator and Trainer at Beyond the Hurt, a United Way-supported peer-to-peer anti-bullying program offered through the Red Cross.
Erin helped to give Alicia the skills she needed to become a teen facilitator, offering anti-bullying workshops for younger children ages 6-12. The idea behind the program is that kids listen to their peers. They look up to them as positive role models and can connect with them on a deeper level. Training youth to facilitate other youth reaps twice the rewards. Not only are the younger children connected to a mentor close to their own age, the facilitators, like Alicia, get a chance to share their own experiences and feel responsible for helping other children.
Alicia was able to connect to the children she worked with on many levels because of her life experience. Her father died when she was very young. After that, she started collecting mementos in what she calls her “memory box”. Letters and cards from her friends remind her that at some point along the way, everyone needs a little help to keep them on the right track.
“I met two girls through one of our programs within an elementary school. They were doing risky things and getting into trouble. We were able to help and one of them to stop hanging out with the other. She is now more connected to her family and is hanging out with the right people. It’s so important,” Alicia said. “Beyond the Hurt just wouldn’t exist without United Way and I wouldn’t be here, as I am today.”
“I feel very proud of myself. I have accomplished a lot at 19 and I do what I can to help out other kids,” said Alicia. Today, in her role as a Casual Prevention Educator with Beyond the Hurt, Alicia can be the difference in a child’s life and for that she is grateful. “It gave me a chance to do some good,” Alicia said.