02/07/08 — Mental health volunteers honored

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Mental health volunteers honored

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 7, 2008 1:47 PM

You can take the bullies out of a classroom, but a new batch will spring up like dandelions if you don't work on the targets, too, according to William Lassiter, manager of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence.

Both sides of the problem need to be addressed, Lassiter told members of the Mental Health Association of Wayne County, who gathered Tuesday night for the organization's annual meeting at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

A statewide anti-bullying campaign was begun following the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, Lassiter told those in attendance. A study after the shooting revealed that in 75 percent of the cases the students involved said they were "sick and tired of being bullied.

"We found out bullying occurs anywhere, but it happens most where the kids are not supervised, where the bullies can get away with it," Lassiter said. "It starts with put-downs and insults and works its way up. It doesn't start with a kid doing harm to another kid. We're too busy mopping the floor to realize we forgot to turn off the faucet."

The answer, he said, is for everybody involved -- school officials all the way to the janitors and the school bus drivers, parents and community members -- to teach the students that bullying will not be tolerated.

"One school counselor can't do it alone," he said. "Define what you expect. Define what respect is for a child, or he is going to make up his own definition. And some kids have a twisted idea of what 'respect' means."

But it doesn't stop with the bullies, Lassiter said. Children who are victimized need to be empowered to stand up for themselves, he said.

Several people were honored at the banquet for their volunteer work.

Danny Walker and Felicia Atkinson received the Dr. A.H. Zealy Award for outstanding volunteer of the year on behalf of the HOPE project at Wayne Opportunity Center. HOPE, which stands for Helping Our Potential Employees, allows clients to volunteer in the community. Walker and Ms. Atkinson work in the Mental Health Association office, helping director Amy Roux.

"They learn skills we take for granted," Ms. Roux said.

The Dr. S.D. McPheeters Award for outstanding board member went to Judy Howell, who was described as someone who likes to work behind the scenes and doesn't seek the limelight.

The William P. Condron Award for outstanding advocate service for the mental health profession went to Emily Moore, who has worked 30 years across the state advocating for mental health.

Mrs. Moore's son was committed to Cherry Hospital 30 years ago.

"There was nothing in the community for him," she said. "This has been a true labor of love."

Also at the meeting, the organization's new president was installed, with Dr. Steve Peters passing the gavel to Dr. Kim Johnson, clinical director at Cherry Hospital.

"Dr. Kim Johnson is the epitome of leadership by example," Peters said.