Be The Voice

Students from Elkins Pointe Middle School were some of the first recognized as a “VIV” or “Very Important Voice” for speaking up against bullying in the early days of the program. From left, Elkins Pointe Principal Kindra Smith, Megan Ramirez, Getzi Sandoval, Jacqueline Penaloza-Rivera, Be the Voice Founders Debbie Cwalina and Michael Schoppenhorst.

Advancements in social media has benefits for all ages and generations, but it also has its detriments.

With the emergence of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to name a few, keeping in contact with family and friends, sharing milestones and events, even up to date with news is within reach.

A dark side to social media that has increased is cyber bullying.

According to Debbie Cwalina, “bullying has reached a whole new level of torture with the emergence of social media.”

“Bullies are no longer the kids who live on the victim’s street or attend his/her school, they are faceless posts on Instagram & Facebook that leave a child feeling helpless and alone,” she said.

In response to all bullying, Cwalina and Michael Schoppenhorst founded “Be THE Voice,” a program that encourages bystanders to speak up and work to end bullying.

The nonprofit organization will host an inaugural event to raise funds and awareness of the program with a “Color Blast Fun Run” at Elkins Pointe Middle School on Oct. 15 from 2 to 6 p.m.

Righteous Guitars in Alpharetta is the presenting sponsor.

Participants will run or walk around the track and have the opportunity to enjoy games, inflatables, a dance-off contest, petting zoo, dunk tank, music, food and more.

They will also be showered in colorful powder on the hour at 3, 4 and 5 p.m. The “BIG color BLAST Finale” is at 6 p.m. when prizes will be awarded to the most colorful participants.

Food and refreshments will be available for $1 each.

Registration is $15 for individuals or to sponsor a student. A family of four can register for $40.

All proceeds will benefit expanding Be The Voice to more schools.

The program is active in 17 schools in North Fulton.

To coincide with recognizing October as National Bullying Prevention Month, in 2016, Mayor Jere Wood proclaimed it as “Be THE Voice” month in Roswell.

Often times, bullying may occur with any number of witnesses around, but it persists because other students may not report it.

“I have always had a soft spot for the bullied kid because I grew up with a brother who suffered at the hands of bullies,” said Be the Voice Founder Debbie Cwalina.

As a child, Cwalina recalled that “no one ever stood up for him, told a teacher or adult that he was being bullied, or tried to intervene, except for me.”

“Students have a great deal of influence over each other, they are truly the key to changing the culture of bullying in their schools,” said the website.

The peer led, video based program is 12-weeks and “focuses solely on empowering the student bystander to make a difference.”

“Statistics show that bullying stops in less than 10 seconds when someone intervenes on behalf of the victim. That is where Be THE Voice campaign comes in,” said Cwalina, who started the grassroots campaign in 2015.

There have been reports of children all across the country taking drastic action to escape bullying.

“Children as young as 11 year’s old are taking their lives vs. enduring another day of bullying, this has to stop,” said Cwalina.

More information is available at www.btwstopbullying.com.

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