- Lisa Dixon-Wells, M.Ed., Founder and Executive Director
Ben and Paul: Two lives altered by bullying
I met Ben and Paul at different points in my life, but their stories have stayed with me. Both were the targets of bullying and knowing them greatly impacted the evolution of Dare to Care. If you’re wondering why Dare to Care is focused on empowering the caring majority, and why migrating our program to virtual delivery was so important to us, read on for the stories of these two boys.
Ben: The Inspiration for Dare to Care
Sometimes people assume my passion for bully prevention comes from being bullied myself, but it’s driven by the memory of witnessing the relentless bullying of a schoolmate. Ben* lived nearby, and we were in the same grade from K-12, but I never really noticed him until Grade 8 when he was in my homeroom. Although I had seen kids being targeted in the past, it was then that I truly saw how cruel kids could be. This boy was tormented, on almost a daily basis, by a ringleader and his followers. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to become a target myself or make the situation even worse.
Today, decades later, I still see Ben several times a month as he walks around the neighborhood that we grew up in. A therapist suggested walking when he feels anxious, which led to him walking every day, and sometimes several times each day. He has never left his childhood home, nor has he ever held on to a job and, as far as I know, he has never had a relationship. He now lives alone, as both his parents have passed, and I can only assume the incessant walking is what keeps him going each day. I have no doubt, his school experience had a tremendously negative and long-term impact on his adult life.
A cornerstone of the Dare to Care program, which I initially developed as I completed an M.Ed. at the University of Calgary, is giving the caring majority a toolbelt of skills to use when they witness or experience bullying behavior. If Ben and I, and our classmates, had had these skills, his life might have been very different.
Paul: A Boy Who Almost Gave Up
For the first twenty years, the Dare to Care school program was taught by a small team at one-day school assemblies. We travelled all over Alberta and across Canada, presenting our program to over 1,000,000 children. Paul* is someone that I and my fellow Dare to Care facilitators met at a small rural school. Initially, he sat off to the side of the school-wide assembly, seemingly bored and unengaged. We assumed he was off in his own world, perhaps daydreaming about lunchtime or what he was going to do after school. But during the first break, Paul quietly approached us, with tears in his eyes, and simply said, “I have been bullied for three years and no one in this school cares.”
He proceeded to tell us about the numerous times he went home hungry because
people stole his lunch, and that he had never wanted a birthday party because he knew that no one would come. He had several other stories to share but then he dropped the real bombshell. A week earlier he had gone out to the family shed and held his dad’s shotgun in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger. He was worn down and tired of the living nightmare his life had become. He simply wanted to give up. Thankfully, he didn’t pull the trigger that day. We did not ask him why; we simply hugged him and told him how happy we were that he was here with us. We promised him there is hope and that he is not alone in this world. Paul was in Grade 6. Imagine if he had gone through with his intentions. Imagine the impact it would have had on his family and his community.
That afternoon Paul, who had felt like giving up only days before, was surrounded by 15-20 of his classmates. They were hugging and crying and individually apologizing for what they had done to him. With Paul, we felt so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. We also couldn’t help but think about other children like Paul, hoping every day for help that might not arrive.
A Model to Reach Even More Children
In order for us to keep making a difference for children like Ben and Paul, the pandemic made it imperative for us to create a virtual version of our program. What we recognized in the process is that virtual delivery has undeniable advantages. It makes it possible for us to present our content in greater depth, make our content available 365 days/year to every participating school, and expand our reach across Canada, the US and perhaps, one day, across the world. We debuted our virtual program in 2021 made our school program 100% virtual in early 2023. Our vision is for every child to feel safe and included at their school, and we have been thrilled to welcome so many new schools to our program.
For information about purchasing a year of access to the Dare to Care Bully Prevention and Life Skills program for your school, contact me at email@example.com
You can view a selection of clips from our virtual program modules on our YouTube channel.
*The boys’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.