Anti-bullying rally message resonates

BENSON — A countywide anti-bullying event that featured a line-up of keynote speakers, entertainment, vendors and fun activities for children drew a dismal-sized crowd Saturday, with organizers pointing to the hot, stormy weather as a reason for the lack of participation. 

“I think the heat, along with the monsoon storms we’re having has scared people off,” said Charity LaDuke, who organized the rally as a Project S.A.F.E community outreach event for children and families in Cochise and surrounding counties. “Bullying is such a huge problem today, especially, cyberbullying. I organized this right at the start of school to remind kids of the terrible impact bullying has on the victims, as well as the consequences you can expect if you’re caught bullying someone.”

With two jumping castles, a face painter and church organizations on hand to help with the event, there were plenty of activities to keep youngsters entertained. Firefighters from the Mescal Fire District cooled kids off by spraying them with water. 

“I’m disappointed that we don’t have more people,” mused LaDuke. “But the folks who are here seem to be having fun.”

Benson Police Sgt. Floyd Graf spoke about cyberbullying, its consequences and the best way for victims to handle cyberbullies. Graf noted that while the Internet is an amazing way to stay socially connected and glean good information, it can be terribly destructive. He noted that most reported cyberbully cases fall under freedom of speech and are difficult to prosecute. However, messages cross the line when the person “intimidates, threatens or harasses another person,” Graf said. “Investigations into cyberbullying can be time consuming and involve other agencies,” he added. “My advice to everyone is to ignore the bully. Let’s not give these people the power to control your feelings.” Graf said when bullying happens, avoid becoming involved in conversations that could cause problems.”

“Parents, monitor your kids’ activities,” Graf advised. “You can be lured into the world of websites, blogs and forums, avoid using anything that might lead to a threat or harassment,” he said. 

Pat Steveson, a member of Benson First assembly of God Church, said that despite the small crowd, the bulling event is a great idea and a good start. “I think for a first time event, it’s great,” he said. “My church is here with a vendors booth because we wanted to support the even. I think we all need to do a better job of explaining what bullying really is. This is an excellent idea because problems are identified, it’s better to be proactive than reactive.”

Destiny Miller, 12, said she has been a victim of cyberbullying in the past, where school kids wrote insulting things about her and her family. “My mom wanted me to come to this because she thought it would be good to hear ideas about what to do when you’re being bullied. I listened to what the policeman (Graf) said and now I know I’m going to ignore other kids when they are being mean,” she said. 

Beca Earl, 10, was at the event with her 9-year-old brother brother Scott and Grandmother Susan Earl. “We came to this because sometimes kids at school say mean things and we have to learn how to ignore them,” she said. The policeman said ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ We should all try to remember that.”

The event, which ran from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., featured a day-long list of activities, entertainment, raffle prizes and speakers. Along with Sgt. Graf, Sarah Pacheco of Rep. Martha McSally’s office spoke at the event and members of the Benson High School Cheer Squad performed, with some speaking out against bullying. 

LaDuke, manager of La Roma Morales Memorial Apts. in Benson, organized the event is partnership with PPEP, Inc. a member of the Arizona Multi-housing Association (AMA) as one of several Project S.A.F.E. events throughout Arizona. 

Last year’s AMA members organized more than 120 Project S.A.F.E. events statewide, serving thousands of families and residents, said LaDuke.

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