In an effort to increase awareness to the issue of bullying, the Eastwood Mall teamed up Wednesday with Malls and Retailers Unite Against Bullying to recognize the month of October as National Bullying Prevention Month.
Sponsored by Captain McFinn and Friends, the mall - along with 100 others across America - invited the public to attend the anti-bullying pledge signing held in the center court.
Trumbull County Commissioners Frank Fuda and Dan Polivka along with Niles Mayor Ralph Infante joined the mall to present the board's resolution designating Oct. 23 as National Anti-Bullying Day in Trumbull County.
Coral Rose, left, and Captain McFinn, characters of the Captain McFinn and Friends educational anti-bullying program, sign the Eastwood Mall’s Anti-Bullying Pledge on Wednesday as part of National Bullying Prevention Month.
Photo by Alisa Manna
"It supports the rights of students to attend school safely and free of violence. Bullying is major problem everywhere - in schools and outside the schools. I often get calls from parents about their kids having difficulties. Kids are afraid to go to school and it makes studying hard," Fuda said. "The resolution provides an opportunity for students and parents to learn about their roles in bullying."
Polivka agreed, adding, "We want to support the anti-bullying effort in any possible way. It's great to see all the supporters at the mall. You see bullying ruin self-esteem, and sometimes death has occurred. It makes sense to support the cause."
In addition to the city officials, several police and fire departments, football teams, coaches and educators across the county were invited to sign the anti-bullying pledge to show how they, too, can make a difference.
"The football teams and educators are the strength of their schools. It's important to see these guys come to support this. It makes a statement," Ken Kollar, general manager of the Eastwood Mall, said.
He said in today's society, bullying has escalated since his time in high school. What used to be physical torment now includes emotional harm - especially with access to the Internet.
"They can hide behind the computer and attack the psyche," he said. "It's a big impact. Negative on an individual or business. ... If we can make one person stop and think about what they're doing, then we succeeded."
Trumbull County's high school football teams that participated included Niles, Howland, Girard, Mooney and Harding.
Girard football player and senior Jordan Graziano, 17, said his support of the cause stems from the family-like relationship his fellow teammates share.
"People get bullied every day. We don't bully. We're a family. We stay together and help each other through hard times." Graziano added he wished all students thought of everyone that way.
"If someone's down, pick them up and help them through it," he said.
Kollar and Christa Blasko, Eastwood Mall's marketing manager, both spoke about the community's responsibility to stop the problem and start "being a buddy, not a bully." They said the role of the community, like Captain McFinn and Friends, is to bring attention to the issue and then prevent it from progressing.
Headquartered in Youngstown, Captain McFinn and Friends originated in 2006 as a educational program centered around teaching and motivating children to care and respect others. It features bullying prevention material marketed towards a younger audience and utilizes different narrative-based strategies to spread the anti-bullying message.
T.J. Anzivino, vice president of the program, said the reason the Captain McFinn program is geared towards kids in pre-kindergarten to elementary school is to reach them at a young age and educate them about the consequences of bullying.
"It teaches them about kindness and shows how to identify bullying and prevent it. Bullying is a learned behavior. We want to reach the kids when they're young about other behaviors with the help of the captain," she said.
The story behind Captain McFinn is that the shark was a former bully but changed his ways following the help of his undersea friends. McFinn now uses his bullying experiences to inspire children around the world to work together, not against one another.
Two of the story's characters, Captain McFinn and his friend Coral Rose, made an appearance at the Eastwood Mall's event to appeal to the targeted kids while strengthening positive relationships and empathy amongst all age groups.
"Over the years, bullying has become a bigger issue. The anti-bullying program has been adopted by malls all over the world. It focuses on how to identify bullying, handle it and prevent it," Blasko said.
She said over 160 malls and retailers and over 135 schools have adopted the Captain McFinn program, and that the Eastwood Mall's motive isn't any different.
"Ken has a zero tolerance for bullying in the mall. He's a proud supporter of the cause," she said.
While several malls have taken action against bullying, McFinn and Friends also works with schools. Alyson Moliterno, Eastwood Mall's assistant marketing director, said Captain McFinn and Friends presented its S.H.A.R.K. Patrol Kit to Niles City Schools' Superintendent Frank Danso.
S.H.A.R.K. Patrol, or Students Help Achieve Respect and Kindness, is a program designed for K - 2 teachers who want to include respect and nonviolence into the curriculum.
"It's an intro to various schools in the Valley," Moliterno said. "Today's attendance was a great turnout. It shows what a great community this is. It's a strong start for a strong case."
The Board of Trumbull County Commissioners' anti-bullying resolution and the Captain McFinn and Friends Bully-Free Pledge is a strong representation of what the community's ultimate goal is. Uniting city policy-makers, educators and students is the massive step forward all parents and guardians who fear for their children's safety deserve to see.
"Step up and get involved. You don't have to be a part of the problem. Be a part of the resolution," Kollar said.