By: Katie Sobiech
With all that’s been going on in the news the past couple of months and after the suicide of a high school student in Massachusetts, media attention has been drawn more closely to the topic of bullying. This topic, as well as many other child and family issues, has been close to the hearts of those at Greenleaf Family Center (GFC) for years.
This organization located next to Akron University not only goes into schools to promote anti-bullying but is currently working on creating a community wide anti-bullying initiative to try to put an end to this injustice once and for all.
GFC began as the Charity Organization Society of Akron in 1912 by Goodyear founder F.A. Seiberling and Firestone founder Harvey Firestone. The original intent was that this organization would strengthen families in the community through counseling, education and support.
Each year Greenleaf serves over 7,850 individuals facing a myriad of issues and challenges. Some of their services include family support programs, school based programs, financial services for families, and community services for the deaf and hard of hearing, just to name a few.
Fight against Bullying
One unique program offered at Greenleaf is their anti-bullying/anti-violence program.
“Greenleaf started offering anti-bullying programming over a decade ago,” Laura Shank, Fund Development and Marketing Director at Greenleaf Family Services, said.
It includes three school-based programs including Don’t Laugh at Me, for kindergarten through first grade, Let’s Smile Together, for third through fourth grade and Odd Girl Out for middle school.
“We teach about prejudices, different races, how to deal with feelings… It’s really a great program,” Shank said.
They teach in a classroom setting for the younger kids, promoting anti-bullying among more than 1,000 kids a year.
“This year I’ve seen a lot of behavior issues, a lot of teasing. We’re mainly in the third grade now and it just starts earlier and earlier so it’s important to get into the schools as soon as we can to prevent the bullying. Being inside of the schools is very important,” Danielle Maggiore, Family Wellness Coordinator/Educator, said.
One preventative measure they take in combating bullying is having the kids create “Bully Buster Books” where each child draws a picture and makes a promise to the class of what they will do to keep from becoming a bully.
Some examples of what the younger kids wrote were “I promise never to be mean. I promise not to tell other people’s secrets. I will respect other people. I will be responsible”; “I will be nice. I will be caring. I will not hurt people” and “I will not hit or kick anyone. I will not let my friends leave me out at recess. I will like if there was no bully’s on earth”.
Greenleaf staff also goes into the schools and meets with the bullies, the victims and the bystanders.
“Even though the bystanders may not participate in the bullying they aren’t preventing or protecting anyone against it, so we sit down with those girls one on one and do a curriculum course with them to solve those issues,” Shank explained.
Currently in the works is their community wide anti-bullying initiative.
“We’re at the starting gates of that. We’re trying to pull in some large community partners for both community organizing and funding possibilities,” Shank said, “It’s something we’re really trying to expand and increase because there really is a need, not just in one school but everywhere. If we can go into the elementary schools and work with these kids at an age where they’re developing their opinions and prejudices we can hopefully prevent these really scary and sad cases further on in middle and high school.”
Variety of Services
Aside from their bullying campaign, Greenleaf has nearly 20 other different programs focusing specifically on the family unit.
“The focus is to keep families together,” Shank said.
One of their largest departments and what they are best known for is their behavioral health services. Many are seeking mental health counseling.
“A lot of people will come here for a car loan and end up in counseling,” Shank said, “they can use a variety of services here.”
Another unique program underneath the umbrella of Greenleaf’s services is Deaf Services, which serves the deaf and hard of hearing in Summit, Portage, Medina, Holmes and Wayne Counties.
Greenleaf provides counseling, advocacy, sign language interpreters, sign language classes and case management to the deaf and hard of hearing.
“Assume you are deaf and in a car accident at night and you’re off balance and a police officer shows up and tries to communicate with you but you can’t communicate,” Shank said, “We have 24 hour a day emergency services for the deaf whether it’s a medical, legal or any other kind of emergency.”
“We collaborate with a lot of other organizations and work with the court systems a lot,” Shank said, “Akron is a very small place and we all work together.”
Some of the organizations they work with are Children’s Services, Summit County Court, Battered Women’s Shelter and Habitat for Humanity.
If you are interested in working with Greenleaf to get their community wide anti-bullying initiative going, or finding out more about their other services and programs please visit http://www.greenleafctr.org or call 330.376.9494.