Local Y Tackles Bullying in SAFE Program


Rocky Mount Elementary is one of 10 Franklin County elementary schools participating in the Franklin County YMCA’s SAFE program. Site director Ana Witcher talks with participants about the importance of being kind.

In conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month, the Franklin County Family YMCA is spending the month of October pushing the message of kindness to local youth.

The Y’s SAFE (Safe-Active-Fun-Educational) before and after school program is taking aim at the bullying epidemic and promoting positive behaviors in its young participants.

“Modeling positive behaviors is foundational to everything we do,” said Jamie Stump, childcare coordinator at the Y. “Our core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility form the roots of our work, helping young people become the change-makers our communities need to become strong.”

Bullying is a key social issue that impacts many kids and their ability to reach their full potential, Stump said. Those who are bullied, whether the bullying takes place physically, verbally or through social media, can suffer negative effects, including depression, poor performance in school, physical illness and increased risk for suicide.

“A big part of what we do in our after school program is make young leaders,” Stump said. “A huge part of that is to give them guidance on how to treat others and how important it is to be kind.”

The Y implemented its SAFE program in 2000, after working parents of school-age children expressed the need for a child care program that fit their schedule. Since then, the Y has enhanced the program by adding help with homework, a healthy snack and its Character Counts curriculum.

Character Counts teaches respect, responsibility, caring and fairness through different weekly themed activities. “What is Tact?” is one of the many lesson plans from the Character Counts curriculum.

“During this lesson, students learn through different scenarios that sometimes honesty can be brutal,” Stump said. “As a general rule, honesty is the best policy. However, the truth is not always pretty, and sometimes blunt honesty can be hurtful.”

The word “tact” would then be introduced as a vocabulary word.

“We would have discussions on ‘tact,’ ” Stump said. “The art of tact involves phrasing things to avoid hurt feelings and provide constructive criticism.”

The year-round SAFE program serves 10 elementary schools across the county by providing before and after school care for students at each participating school.

This school year sees more than 250 students per day participating in the program. The Character Counts curriculum is taught throughout the school year and continues into the Y’s summer camp program, which serves over 135 participants per day.

“We staff every site with qualified child care personnel,” Stump said. “There is a weekly fee, but we offer financial assistance to families that qualify.”

Ultimately, the SAFE program is teaching kids kindness, said Stump.

“The reality is that bullying is going to happen, but here in the Y’s SAFE program, we give every child the tools to recognize and cope with the difficult situations they might find themselves in,” she said. “Everyone involved with young people has a role to play in preventing this damaging behavior. YMCAs nationwide work hard every day to provide safe spaces for children to grow and thrive. This is part of our commitment to helping develop and activate young people so they can transform communities today and in the future.”

Since the SAFE program’s inception, YMCA staff have noticed an uptick in kind gestures.

“We have seen a positive outcome from the program,” Stump said. “Participants are showing more kindness by using manners, holding doors for each other and helping friends in need. They are also participating in a lot of community service projects.”

To learn how to support victims of bullying, visit ymca.net/membernews.

To learn more about the Y’s SAFE program, contact Stump at 489-9622 or jstump@franklincountyymca.org.

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