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Making a difference

August 23, 2013

Russ Hunlock

A young cheerleader in Wapakoneta was so moved by the anti-bullying message of another young cheerleader in Texas that she wanted to spread it throughout her hometown.
Dressed in her cheerleading uniform, Cheyenne (Chey) Phillips has taken that message to businesses and offices throughout the city, along with a poster board that people wherever she goes may sign to offer their support.
“It makes me sad to see bullying against people and animals,” Chey said of why she was asking others to support Abby’s Pledge, an effort to prevent bullying through education awareness and help take a stand against bullying.
The pledge is to stand up for others — “I pledge to speak up when I see bullying and harassment. I will notice and take action. I can make a difference.” It is a message the young girl especially wants to remind others of as school gets ready to start this week.
Chey said she is hoping she can make a difference through her efforts.
“I am trying to get people to stop bullying,” Chey said.
The 9-year-old, who attends Ohio Connections Academy, is a junior advocate for Abby’s Pledge.
A cheerleader like Abby Belcher, who started the campaign, Chey cheers for the Spirit Force All Stars Special Needs Cheer Team and Spirit Force All Stars Avengers Youth Level 2 Cheer Team. “I think it is important that we speak up about bullying and take action,” Chey said. “That is what Abby’s Pledge asks us to do.
“Abby is just a kid like me, and if she has the courage to do this, then I can, too,” she said. “Many times kids look the other way because they are scared that if they say something that they will get bullied, too. It’s about making a difference, helping out those around us, and helping others find the confidence to speak up if they see someone getting bullied.”
Her mother, Leslie Phillips, said despite Wapakoneta being a “near perfect community,” there is one major problem here — bullying.
“It is out of control and has invaded our schools, establishing itself in children as young as kindergarteners,” Phillips said. “It has spread like poison, intoxicated our local parks and rec centers. I knew our community couldn’t be the only one out there that needed help.”
Phillips said the entire country is in desperate need of action against bullying.
She said while the schools have attempted to address the problem by bringing in experts, the brief impact eventually dissipates. What saddens her the most is that children in the community have gone so far as to take their own lives due to the problems they are experiencing with bullying.
While reading up on the subject, Phillips came across Abby’s Pledge and the mission to get gyms involved. She immediately shared it with Chey, who read through every page with her mom and wholeheartedly believed in the mission and knew she had to do her part.
Abby started Abby’s Pledge after watching her sister, who has Asperger’s, get bullied in school. She said her sister would come home crying and no matter how much her parents talked to the teachers it didn’t stop.
The girls bullying her would exclude her and laugh at her. Abby said the bullies were cheerleaders, who actually inspired her to become a cheerleader, because she wanted to show others that not all cheerleaders were mean.
“I finally said ‘Enough!’ This has been going on long enough and if teachers won’t do anything because they don’t want to get involved, and if kids don’t want to say anything because they think it’s funny, then maybe I can,” Abby said. “So, I started Abby’s Pledge as a way that people would not only take a pledge, but they must also take action and show their results.
“I knew I had to take a stand to try to get people to understand that what they were doing was wrong and it hurt,” she said.
Earlier this month, Abby took her message to Washington, D.C. and walked to pay honor and respect to children and teens who were bullied and abused and committed suicide as a result.
Her hope, she said, was that someone would see her and think if a little girl cares enough about keeping children safe, then maybe lawmakers can take the pledge and put harsher laws into effect that will hold schools, educators and others responsible for their inaction and failing to protect children.
It’s a message Abby said she someday wants to take global and to develop chapters for in cities across the country. As awareness about bullying is being spread, some legislators have considered adding education on it to the DARE curriculum.
“I am beyond thankful to everyone who believes and is standing behind my cause,” Abby said. “I think a lot of people feel the same way I do, that it’s time for a change in America and the way we address bullying and abuse, because right now, we really have a broken system and if we stand together we can all make a difference.”
Chey developed a plan and presented Abby’s Pledge along with her trifold poster board for her teammates to sign and commit to the pledge. Her coaches embraced the opportunity for character building and worked with the team to create a short video dedicated to taking the pledge.
Within days, Chey approached her mom again, saying that she felt Abby’s Pledge could really benefit the community and wanting to share it with others beyond the cheer gym.
“With Abby’s inspiration close to our hearts, we hit the pavement on a caring mission to heal our community with this powerful pledge to take action,” Phillips said. “Little did we know the impact we would have on so many lives that day.”
Customers and employees at more than a dozen offices signed the pledge during Chey’s visits including the Wapakoneta Police Department.
Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock, who signed the pledge, said he thought it was a great idea.
“We obviously don’t condone bullying and it is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Hunlock said. “What she is doing is very good for a young lady her age to want to take it on. It is good to see kids here doing good.”
She said the visits were longer than they expected and at many, tear-filled stories were shared of how bullying had deeply wounded so many people — children and adults alike.
“Upon returning home, my inbox was filled with emails from businesses we had not yet reached out to asking us to meet with them to share Abby’s Pledge,” Phillips said. “It made us realize how desperately this plan of action was needed in our community.
“In less than a week we reached so many people and touched so many hearts because one young cheerleader had a dream and created a pledge to take action to make that dream come true.”

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