By Erika Webb
At a Youth Explosion meeting, Nick Pizza began to hear from parents that their kids were being bullied.
He said some of the young girls attending the Saturday Night Alive monthly concert events started talking about how they were experiencing bullying at school.
"I couldn't believe it," Mr. Pizza said. "These kids looked to me like they should never be bullied."
Then Youth Explosion board member Lillian Stabile, sent Mr. Pizza a song that refused to go unheard.
The song, written by Ms. Stabile and sung by her granddaughter, Felecity, also known as "Little Lissy," is called "Stop the Bullies." It was inspired by Ms. Stabile's eldest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, who was bullied, Ms. Stabile said, "til death."
"It (bullying) totally changed her life. She had her jaw broken twice in school. Then, when she was 13, she was abducted. She spent five years in a mental hospital and never recovered," Ms. Stabile said. "She died in a one car accident. I say she killed herself because she could never cope with what happened throughout her whole life."
Now 13, Felecity is the lead singer in the group Felecity & Fire, which performs at Youth Explosion events. She recently re-recorded the song.
Mr. Pizza received an e-mail from Ms. Stabile with the song attached. He said he was busy and put off listening to it but that it somehow ended up on his Blackberry.
"I left the meeting that night and my phone started to play the song. I couldn't shut it off so I listened to it," Mr. Pizza said. "It made me realize this (bullying) is really an issue but I didn't want to just start a group. I wanted to DO something about it."
He said he got home but the song wasn't finished with him.
"It started playing again and my wife asked why this song kept playing," Mr. Pizza said. "I couldn't shut it off. It played five or six times that day. After that it would play (randomly). Since we started this (Deltona Against Bullying), it hasn't played again."
The group's first community event, held Sept. 15, drew 8,000 people.
Bullying results in experience of poor self-esteem, depression, and anxiety about going to school and even suicidal thoughts. In 85 percent of cases, there is no intervention on the part of school teachers, or administrators, to stop bullying from taking place, according to the Deltona Against Bullying website.
In January, the group plans to debut the ChangeReaction pilot program at Deltona's Heritage Middle School.
Carolyn Carbonell, Heritage Middle School principal, said ChangeReaction is an activity-based program to help sixth-grade students gain new awareness, respect and responsibility for effective change.
"We want to excite and encourage kids to build unity throughout the campus through compassion and respect," Ms. Carbonell said in a phone interview.
The 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System indicates that, nationwide, 20 percent of students in grades 9-12 experienced bullying.
By introducing the program to sixth graders and building their knowledge over the course of their three years at Heritage, Ms. Carbonell hopes to create a positive domino effect.
"If we get a core group of kids to be leaders, to bring new sixth graders into the group, then it will continue each year, starting in sixth grade," she said. "We want to build a mindset that tolerance is what we need to work on to create a community feeling and reduce bullying."
Mr. Pizza said fundraisers, including an alumni football game between Pine Ridge and Deltona high schools, scheduled for Jan. 20, will support the program.
"We have a program to put in schools, but it's going to take everyone to get involved and get grants and raise money," Mr. Pizza said.
Ms. Carbonell said the alumni game will be played at Pine Ridge.
"This is a very costly program," she said.
Volusia County Schools Area Superintendent Tom Russell is the one Mr. Pizza credits with helping Deltona Against Bullying carry its message to local schools.
"He opened the doors for us, to get us into schools," Mr. Pizza said. "We did performances in schools to fire up teachers, students and families, and the schools put posters and flyers (about the group's events) on their websites. The schools joined with us and notified parents about our (September) event."