What started out as a crazy idea has manifested. Our goal of spotlighting 50 heroes in 50 states has resulted in numerous blessings, miracles and new friendships. Thank you to everyone who supported and blessed this project. If you’re interested in being part of our mission to uncover everyday heroes, reach out: [email protected] — we’d love to hear from you.
Who: Matthew Kaplan
What: Peer-to-Peer Anti-Bullying Program Targeting Middle Schools
Why: It’s cool to be kind!
The Catalyst: Bullying is a topic of concern in schools across America. With convenient access to digital devices and social media, hurtful messages are multiplied and spread like chicken pox. Adding to the angst, kids can post harmful messages with anonymity, ease and without a real-time reaction from the victim.
Josh said he received dozens of hurtful text messages, like “you suck”. What made things worse — he discovered that his friends, disguised behind blocked phone numbers, were sending the messages. It may sound benign, but at that age, friends are your world, so when you get several messages, you start to think there really is something wrong with you. “It felt horrible,” Josh said. “I probably cried every day in the 4th and 5th grade.”
Big brother Matthew took advocacy to a heroic level by creating the anti-bullying peer experiential program, The Be ONE (Open to New Experiences) Project.
The Act: Through this journey, Matthew discovered his passion: Building community and fostering a positive school culture.
But how? He researched anti-bullying programs targeting middle schoolers, but could only find high school programs and believes that “the damage” is done by that age. “It’s been ingrained, become habit. You have to get them in middle school — that’s when they’re figuring out their sense of self,” Matthew said.
Without an example, Matthew decided to create a middle school anti-bullying program using peer pressure in a positive way. “What if it were cool to be kind?” he preaches enthusiastically. “What if peer pressure could be used as inclusiveness instead of exclusiveness? When they have this tool, they could either be supportive or disruptive. I want them to recognize that they have the power.”
The day progresses with focused, serious exercises when kids are asked to sit in a circle and have 90 seconds each to finish the following sentence: “When others see me, they think _____. But if they really knew who I am _____.”
“The Be ONE” challenge is the last activity. When Matthew, who delivers self-defining statements with the passion of an older brother and conviction of a minister, describes a situation, kids are instructed to stand in a line and “Be One” to cross an imaginary line, if the description resonates with them.
At the end of the program, there is a noticeable change of enlightenment and compassion in the kids. Many have tears.
Grab a tissue and watch how every single kid has “crossed a line.” Be inspired to take action — you will discover that you have the power to BE ONE person that is the change-maker in your community:
The Ripples (Updated Oct. 2015):
- Matthew has inspired more than 150 Arizona teachers and high school students to be team leaders during the day-long middle school program. The Be ONE Project is now being piloted at a local high school, where 20 high school students are being trained to be Be ONE Presenters.
- Awarded a 2014 Peace First Prize, a two-year, $25,000 fellowship that recognizes youth peacemakers.
- A commercial about Be ONE has been on the Disney Channel as part of their Make Your Mark Campaign.
- Radio Disney Music Awards presented The Be ONE Project with an award in 2014 as Radio Disney’s Friends for Change Teen Hero.
- Invited to the 2014 Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leader Summit, a week-long workshop in New York City whose participants are selected based on their extraordinary work on humanitarian issues
- 2015 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipient, given to Jewish teens who demonstrate exceptional leadership
- Featured as part of a promotion for the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
- True Hero Grantee, which awards grants to community service projects
- Matthew is currently a student at Duke University. He was awarded the Robertson Scholarship: a full ride scholarship that includes tuition, room and board and three summer experiences and a semester abroad. Robertson Scholars are chosen based on their leadership and the commitment to social change. Matthew is also working to bring The Be ONE Project to North Carolina schools.
Nothing brings me more joy than inspiring people to be better and do better. Spreading compassion and action is the biggest reward for me and all the heroes I meet. I spoke to students who participated and asked them how it changed their lives. Their answers were mature, candid and give me hope.
“A group of 6th graders that didn’t go through the program, they’re like the popular kids, now they’re bullying a bunch of the 5th graders. But all the kids that did (go through the program) are trying to stop it. Really helps to go through the program. It changes your ways.” -Kayla, 11, 6th grader
“I look for people who are eating alone (at lunch) and I talk to them. I made many new friends this way.” -Anonymous
Matthew’s goal is to get “The Be ONE” program in every Arizona middle school. We believe he will reach this goal. Join in on the fun and be the one who inspires kindness in your community. After all, it is cool to be kind.
– For more info. on ripples: The Be One Projects Awards and Recognition Page
What can YOU do?!
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For more information on our 50/50 campaign, check out our blog: 50 Heroes, 50 States, 1 Inspiring Journey!