Time flies when you’re doing good work!
Dimitri Halkidis, the founder and president of Boo2Bullying, is a true force of nature. Halkidis said he’s shocked at the fact that his nonprofit brainchild is marking its 10th anniversary this year.
“I can’t believe this idea I had many years ago—to do something meaningful to help kids who are bullied within our community—is about to mark its 10th anniversary,” Halkidis said. “It’s so exciting and very rewarding to realize we have reached so many kids within the Coachella Valley and beyond through this lockdown, as a result of our different social-media platforms.”
Drawing on his career as a celebrity photographer and gallery owner, Halkidis brought star power and media savvy to his nonprofit from the very beginning. His emphasis was on reaching kids in person, where they live and go to school—through school assemblies, a mentoring program and community outreach.
Having experienced bullying himself, Halkidis knew that his nonprofit would strike a chord and meet a critical need among today’s youth. The statistics on bullying are stark: Some 280,000 students are attacked in U.S. secondary schools each month. Nearly 42 percent of kids report having been bullied online, with 25 percent being bullied more than once. Some 1.8 million LGBTQ Americans between the ages of 13 and 24 seriously consider suicide each year, largely as a reaction to bullying.
But with the school closures, social distancing and bans on indoor gatherings brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Boo2Bullying had to revamp many of its efforts. For one thing, the in-person school assemblies have become virtual assemblies. Interestingly, school teachers and Boo2Bullying’s “ambassadors,” who normally present these programs, say that the virtual format may actually increase students’ interest and involvement.
“The Boo2Bullying ambassadors made our virtual assemblies, over three days, a personal, upfront experience to hear how older students dealt with bullies,” said Damon Bonelli, a school counselor at Bella Vista Elementary School in Desert Hot Springs. “When we started, a number of students had their videos turned off … but as the Boo2Bullying ambassadors started to share and talk about their real-life experiences with bullying, I noticed that our students’ video feeds started to turn on! Our elementary students know when someone is being real and sincere. It’s comforting to know that a community nonprofit like Boo2Bullying is here and cares about the well-being of our students.”
Another change: Boo2Bullying’s community outreach moved from in-person tabling at community events to videos on Boo2Bullying’s website and YouTube channel. Cassie Scerbo, actor who serves as Boo2Bullying’s vice president, did a series of in-depth interviews with fellow actors such as Sean Kanan, Maya Stojan and Hayley Hasselhoff, and influencers such as Suede Brooks, about their experiences in overcoming bullying. The annual Desert’s Got Talent fundraising show transformed into the Stand Up and Shout online talent competition, using the Compete app, which filters out cyber-bullying and negative comments to create a safe online space for kids to post videos of their creative talents. The deadline for submissions was up through January, and winners are expected to be announced soon.
Halkidis and his colleagues continue to attract new people to Boo2Bullying, who have brought energy and ideas that have translated into new and successful programs for the kids in this community. Mothers Against Bullying was recently started by Charlene Avila, who lost her 13-year-old daughter to suicide resulting from bullying. Boo2Bullying ambassador Katie Welch has created the C.A.P.E. Nation program for K-3 children, with funding from the Anderson Children’s Foundation and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Katie uses a superhero theme to teach the young elementary students courage, appreciation, personal health and education—C.A.P.E.!
“We’ve learned a lot during this period of COVID-19, and we are working hard at developing new programs for our youth for the future,” Halkidis said.
Andrea Madrigal, the director of development at the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Springs, said Boo2Bullying is integral to kids in the Coachella Valley.
“Boo2Bullying is an amazing organization that spreads the word that it is not OK to be bullied, and it is not a rite of passage that every child needs to go through,” Madrigal said. “Boo2Bullying gives kids the tools that they need to overcome bullying—to know how to stand up and help others. As a victim of bullying myself, I know that it is important to give kids a voice and let them be heard. Dimitri and Boo2Bullying do that for our youth.”