On Thursday, November 21st the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) kicked off their first cyberbullying outreach presentation at Gaylord Middle School (GMS). Why was this outreach presentation so important? During the last youth needs survey, the youth of Otsego County noted that cyberbullying was the second most important issue affecting them in a negative manner. The survey also noted that 60% of youth felt that social media had a negative impact in their lives. YAC looked around and didn’t see any organizations in the community tackling this issue, so they decided to work on a proactive grant. They met with the T-Mobile Foundation and started the process of securing a grant from T-Mobile’s Huddle Up program.

“Huddle Up grants funded by the T-Mobile Foundation are a wonderful opportunity for T-Mobile employees to support a youth-focused cause or organization in our own backyard. Grants help us form long-lasting partnerships with kids and their families in our communities. We are very fortunate to partner with the Youth Advisory Committee of the Otsego Community Foundation by funding their campaigns around critical issues like cyberbullying and internet safety,” stated Stacy Carlson, T-Mobile District Manager.

After securing the grant the real work started. The members of YAC reached out to the Health Department of Northwest Michigan to work on this issue, which effects youth both mentally and physically. “The Health Department of Northwest Michigan provides school-based mental health services to students. One of the reasons students may seek additional support is due to bullying, including cyberbullying. We want to ensure that all students understand the effects of cyberbullying and where to get help if they need to talk about their experience,” noted Nicole Montgomery of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. Then, YAC organized a meeting with superintendents, principles, teachers, the Health Department and T-Mobile to present and discuss the ideas they had for the cyberbullying campaign.

YAC wanted to involve the students of GMS with a hands-on activity before the presentation.To get the students involved, they were asked to write questions they felt needed to be answered. Principle Joe Somerville and YAC advisor Karin Beyer reviewed the questions and segmented them for each panelist. Twelve students also took time out of a school day to have photographer Melissa Noa take cyberbullying staged pictures that are now installed in the GMS hallway. “Thank you to the Otsego Community Foundation for bringing this partnership to Gaylord Middle School. Having our students participate by writing the questions posed to the panel was much more meaningful than just talking at them. In addition, our students will be reminded daily of the messages as they see our situational posters hanging in our halls,” stated Somerville.

The presentation was in panel format featuring YAC members Kaylie McKinley and Kellen Minyon, Nicole Montgomery from the Health Department, Stacy Carlson of T-Mobile and police officer Joe Tath.

“I feel that this panel was a vital step toward awareness and prevention of cyberbullying. We live in a modern world with a very advanced system of communication and It is a necessity for every single person to know what’s right and what’s wrong online,” noted Youth Advisory Committee member Kellen Minyon.

YAC member Kaylie McKinley stated “I think that the kids seemed very intrigued with the issue. It was inspiring to see them interact and feel as empowered as I do with this issue. The presentation went so well and I’m happy I was able to talk and present the topic.”

“I learned that cyberbullying isn’t just being mean to someone online, but that it can also be about posting a picture of someone without their consent. I feel that more people need to know what cyberbullying is. I learned a lot from this presentation,” stated seventh grader Noah Enders.

This first cyberbullying campaign outreach was a great success and YAC is already reaching out to the next school, St. Mary Cathedral School, to start the presentation process, including photography for the posters.

If you would like to donate to the Youth Fund of the Otsego Community Foundation so that they may advance their mission, please visit their giving page.