Roswell Rotary

Be THE Voice co-founder Debbie Cwalina, center, honors Mountain Park Elementary School students at the May 9 Roswell Rotary Club meeting at Roswell Area Park. 

ROSWELL, Ga. — Be THE Voice is commonly mislabeled as an anti-bullying program. But rather than placing its focus on the bully, Be THE Voice works to empower bystanders with the tools to neutralize instances of aggression.

That shift in focus is what has helped Be THE Voice succeed beyond what its founders had anticipated, said co-founder Debbie Cwalina. 

Cwalina, along with Michael Schoppenhorst, launched the campaign in local schools in 2014 after finding support within the Roswell Rotary. Most recently, the initiative has been recognized as the Best Youth Service Project in District 6900 by Rotary Club International. 

Cwalina returned to a Roswell Rotary Club meeting May 9 at Roswell Area Park to speak about Be THE Voice and how it has been helping local schools.

“Kids these days are facing so much more than we did,” Cwalina said. “Kids are absolutely at their breaking point, and they don’t know how to process it or handle it.”

A major source of these challenges, according to Cwalina, is bullying, especially cyber-bullying.

This new form of aggression takes the torture to a whole new level, she said. It is often faceless, done through anonymous channels, and can hurt students at all hours of the day. It’s not just at school or on the bus anymore, Cwalina said. 

Be THE Voice tries to combat these newer issues with three major deviations from traditional anti-bullying programs: It is student-led, video-based and focuses on fun. 

“Our approach is all about supporting the victim, so the bully can’t get mad at anybody who is just being kind to whoever they are picking on,” said Cwalina. “We are not an anti- anything. We are pro-compassion, pro-inclusion, pro-kindness.”

The videos, for example, feature fellow students as well as athletes and celebrities who talk about their experiences and offer encouragement. One video features an elementary school student who created a concept called “Sammie’s Buddy Bench” to help other students find peers to interact with. 

Be THE Voice is usually implemented as a weekly, three-month campaign — a very intentional format, Cwalina said.

Several studies have shown that successful behavior modifications require repeating a specific behavior pattern for at least three months before it becomes an ingrained pattern, she said.

At the end of the three months, the participating student organizations select several of their peers to be recognized as a Very Important Voice who has made a difference during that time. Several local elementary school students were honored with this designation at the Roswell Rotary Club meeting. 

Be THE Voice campaigns are available and customized for all school levels — elementary, middle and high. Some of the past participating area schools include Roswell High School, Centennial High School, North Springs High School, Elkins Pointe Middle School, Crabapple Middle School, The Cottage School and Mountain Park Elementary.

“At the very heart of the Be THE Voice initiative is the belief that the bystander is the creation of change within their school,” Cwalina said. “Bullies don’t magically disappear after graduation. They become roommates, coworkers, bosses, neighbors. Throughout all of their life, these children are going to be in situations where they need to know how to communicate. The skills the students learn through our program will carry them throughout their lifetime.” 

For more information on Be THE Voice, visit be-the-voice.org

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