“Look at this picture,” says Thérèse Newcomb, pointing to a drawing of a woman pulling a rainbow of multi-coloured yarn through a loom to create a beautifully intricate flower-filled world. “It struck me that this is exactly what the community foundation is good at doing – weaving the community together.”
Thanks to Thérèse and Kent Newcomb, HCF this year began to weave a community-wide response to a childhood tragedy: bullying. Statistics show that 25% of high school students are bullied, and the effects of repeated abuse are debilitating and far-reaching. At a time of life that should be light and carefree, children who are bullied experience terror and anguish. The ramifications are life-long.
The Newcombs were appalled by ever-increasing media reports of bullying. They decided they couldn’t stand by on the sideline without trying to do something about it. They brought their concern to the community foundation.
“Bullying is a terrible problem,” says Kent, ”but we felt the tide was running on this issue and the community was ready to work together on it. With a modest investment from us and leadership from Hamilton Community Foundation, Hamilton may be able to take a lead role in alleviating bullying. We hope it might become a model for the rest of the country.”
The Foundation began by collecting information about the extent of bullying in local schools, the responses that have been designed to date, and what research can tell us about the best ways to address the problem. “The Foundation is becoming an important repository of information and intelligence on community issues and this is a good example of that approach,” Kent says. He is a former chairman of Hamilton Community Foundation and a founding board member of HCF’s national membership organization, Community Foundations of Canada. “The community foundation movement is becoming very good at convening – bringing groups and individuals together to tackle issues of common concern. HCF and other community foundations are developing a reputation for innovation on social issues.”
Hamilton’s anti-bullying initiative, now a Roundtable of more than 25 organizations including the two school boards, youth-serving organizations, the police, parents, media representatives, children’s aid societies, public health, McMaster University, the Community Child Abuse Council, and other important groups, is designing a community-wide strategy to reduce and prevent bullying.
“We’re encouraged that so many organizations in the community are coming together to combat this problem and create a safe environment for children,” says Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Superintendent, Jim Webberley.
The Roundtable is looking carefully at programs in North America and Europe that have documented success, and in 2003 it will propose a multi-faceted, multi-year plan for Hamilton and seek funding support from a variety of sources.
Donna Fraser-Simmons, a parent and member of the Balaclava School Council, says she is involved in the Roundtable “because I’ve seen how damaging bullying is. This initiative is giving us hope that Hamilton’s future – its kids – will be able to achieve their personal best in a safe and nurturing environment in which the bullying has no power and bystanders have become interveners.”
Thérèse and Kent Newcomb share that vision. “We may not cure the problem completely,” they say, “but by working together as a community, we can certainly make a decided difference.”
Excerpt from 2002-2003 Annual Report